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Back at the tail end of 2012 Beck revealed Song Reader, an album that sent think pieces spewing from the keys of music critics, and was hailed as the latest in a long line of oddball moves for the American musician. There may have been some hyperbole in the reporting of Song Reader's release, but it's also easy to forget what a surprise it was at the time. The project had secretly been in gestation for almost a decade, and when it finally arrived that level of attention and development really showed through. The Song Reader book is a beautiful object in its own right; a hardback book, filled with sheet music that features charming illustrations alongside traditional notation. The initial reaction focused on that idea of music as an artefact, of the way that tradition still informs modern song writing and production.

The project was also praised for being incredibly forward thinking. For Song Reader wasn't just a collection of sheet music, but a website where anyone could upload their own renditions of the songs. It tapped into the trend of budding YouTube artists and SoundCloud stars who cover other artists music, giving them the tools to create their own interpretations of Beck songs, but without the shadow of the original compositions hanging over them. They took the sheet music and showed how malleable it could be - hundreds of musicians have tackled the songs, each in their own way.

For a long time Beck refused to play any material from Song Reader, but finally, in 2013 he played a handful of shows focused on the album. These shows featured contributions from a wide array of stars - the show at The Barbican included Guillemots, James Yorkston, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Mighty Boosh, Jarvis Cocker and Beck himself. These were treated as one-off shows, with a house band providing a thematic link throughout the evening (though artists were allowed to let their sound and influences show through). Now there is an official Song Reader record, featuring a similarly star-studded line-up, but rather than adding an extra dimension to the project, it weakens the integrity of the original concept.

The strength of Song Reader has always been that malleable quality which allows anyone to offer their own spin on the tracks. Sure, the musical notation exists, but Beck was keen to keep things as open as possible. Firstly, so as not to deter people from tackling the tracks, but also to allow for a wide variety of creativity. By releasing an album, even if it only features Beck on one track, threatens to create a sense of an 'official' rendition. The album itself was produced by Beck (alongside Randall Poster) and given its similarity in tone to the live shows it's certainly not outside the realms of possibility that Beck directed the players in the right and wrong way to perform these songs.

The live shows worked because they were temporary - performed to just a portion of Beck's audience. Those renditions existed for the briefest of moments and that reinforced the fact that they were by no means definitive. The album cover gives no indication as to how we should approach this record - is it an interpretation? A tribute perhaps? It simply states "Warby Parker presents Song Reader. Twenty Songs by Beck: featuring," and then a list of names including Jack White, Jack Black, Sparks, Swamp Dogg, Laura Marling and Eleanor Friedberger, among others.

Some of you may have noticed that the album is "presented" by Warby Parker, the hipster choice when it comes to prescription glasses. The promotional material is keen to trumpet this collaboration between the company and Beck (they're even releasing limited edition eyewear based on Beck's favourite colours!) but also stress that proceeds from the album go to 826 National, a non-profit helping young people engage with creative writing. So this is in no way a meaningless cash-in.

Ahem. Moving on.

The music itself is a rather conservative affair, and despite Poster's claim that each artist was able to "make these songs their own and render them with authority and distinction," the songs stick fairly close to folk and blues styles. In many ways Song Reader is like a modern day version of the great American Songbook, but given Beck's history of innovation and genre mashing, this feels like a missed opportunity. Along with Morning Phase, the Beck of 2014 seems like a huge disappointment. Gone is the raucous energy of tracks like 'High 5 (Rock the Catskills)', the post-modernism of 'Loser' and the catchy joy of 'The New Pollution'. Tracks like 'Saint Dude', 'Just Noise' and 'Title of this Song' are happy to be safe, inoffensive and dull.

'Saint Dude' got two airings at the Barbican show, first rendered as a beautiful soaring shoegaze number by Guillemots, then as a spiky art-punk piece befitting Franz Ferdinand. But here Bob Forrest merely meanders with it and even though the music tries to reach headier heights it seems to stumble and ends up back at a plateau. Even tracks like 'Rough on Rats', which attempts to recreate down 'n' dirty blues, sounds like it belongs on a Disney movie soundtrack. There's absolutely no bite to the song, it just feels like empty posturing, which is a shame as singer David Johansen (of The New York Dolls) could have brought so much more to this song.

In fact it seems like a lot of the artists are holding back on us and it quickly becomes apparent that no-one's really that invested in the project. Jack White is a pale imitation of himself on 'I'm Down', eschewing the visceral guitar fuzz that made the White Stripes, Dead Weather and Raconteurs so enjoyable, and opting instead for a performance much closer to country. Meanwhile on 'Eyes That Say I Love You', Jarvis Cocker appears to be going through the motions. There's some husky whispering and a bouncy keyboard, but this is Jarvis on a leash. Only Fun. seem to be operating at their usual level, providing saccharine emotion on 'Please Leave a Light on When You Go'.

There are bright spots, but they are few and far between. Jack Black's take on 'We All Wear Cloaks' is an almost vaudevillian cabaret, but it's nowhere near as entertaining as some of his other musical performances. The final third of the song, which allows Jack Black to ascend to his trademark falsetto is genuinely funny (despite the fact that he's done it so many times) especially since it's surrounded by baritone moaning. The whole thing revels in its camp horror and is probably the only track that really offers anything fun. It is however hidden 18 tracks into the record.

Despite opening with a clichéd acoustic guitar melody, Juanes' rendition of 'Don't Act Like Your Heart isn't Hard' also stands out. It's turned into a catchy indie pop number, with echoing synthesisers and a muted riff during the second verse. It has quirky teen movie soundtrack written all over it, but that doesn't matter. It's just kind of nice. Sparks also deserve a special mention for delivering the album's most oddball moment. Sure, it's no 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us', but it's a weird collision of theatrical strings, Ron Mael's spaced-out synthesiser (which still seems stuck in the '70s) and Russell Mael's falsetto.

It stands out like a sore thumb, but on an album filled with songs that seem unable to grab attention that was always going to be the case. In many ways that's how the album should have been. At one point in his career, Beck was showing us that genres like hip-hop, folk, blues, grunge and electronica can sit happily together on a record. The anarchic dissonance of Odelay still sounds great today, and Song Reader could have been a chance to showcase that again. Instead we've been given a collection of songs that have no passion, have nothing to say and fundamentally provide nothing of any value.

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