Beck: Hyperspace review – Pharrell collaboration never achieves lift-off

Beck: Hyperspace review – Pharrell collaboration never achieves lift-off. (Capitol) In what would have seemed a dream teaming early last decade, Pharrell Williams helped produce Beck’s occasionally lovely but unambitious 14th album

A few years ago, I asked Peter Buck what he missed about being in REM. “Being young and in the centre of my culture,” he replied. It’s a remark that came to mind when listening to the 14th studio album by Beck, seven of whose 11 tracks were co-produced and co-written by Pharrell Williams. This would have sounded like the most exciting collision of talents some time early in the last decade, the very definition of cultural centrality, but now makes one think: well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, wasn’t it?

The irony is that Stratosphere, the best song on Hyperspace, has nothing to do with Williams. Produced by Beck, it sounds utterly unconcerned with anything other than being big and beautiful. It is little surprise to find that Chris Martin sings backup, given it floats somewhere between early-70s Pink Floyd and Coldplay, all spacily non-specific lyrics (bar a specific line about injecting) about a friend who overdosed, consumed by yearning melancholy.

So what does Williams bring to the party? Beck said Williams encouraged him to take a more singer-songwriterly approach, and made the production more minimal. Listening to Saw Lightning, though, with its slide guitar, martial drums, an assortment of whoops, ping-ponging electronics and the sound of the kitchen sink being lightly strummed, you’re inclined to ask: “You sure about that?”

It’s not that Hyperspace is ever truly disappointing: Williams and Beck know how to make records sound pretty great, and the songwriting is never poor. It’s more that it feels as though neither of them stretched themselves. The moments of loveliness, such as Stratosphere and Die Waiting, co-written with Cole MGN and Kossisko Konan, are great, but hardly enough to lift Hyperspace into another dimension. The whole album, with its dabbling through styles (See Through proves only that Beck isn’t convincing doing stripped-back R&B) makes it sound like walking through a mid-market clothes shop on a Saturday afternoon. It’s just about enough to keep you browsing, but never enough to inspire.