Jeff Beck’s ‘Commotion’

Nearly losing the tip of his index finger didn’t stop Jeff Beck from finishing up his new album. Backed by a 64-piece orchestra, the guitar god’s “Emotion and Commotion” is an intriguing experiment in the sonic fusion of a classical symphony and Beck’s renowned ability to coax unusual sounds out of his instrument. Perhaps partially due to the lack of a finger during part of the recording, you’ll be hard pressed to find purely technical guitar chops. But fear not, there’s plenty of melody and emotion to make up for it.

The album consists of ten tracks (11 if you buy it on iTunes). Five of the ten are instrumental forays with Beck leading the listener through the track. On these songs, you can truly tell you’re listening to a great guitarist doing his thing. The other five, however, seem out of place. Not because they’re “bad” per se; rather, these songs, which all feature vocalists, seem more to be contemporary “songs.” Even though Beck’s guitar is fairly prominent throughout these tracks, they all have a strong focus on the vocalist when they’re singing and this ruins the effect of the guitar.

Beck’s foray into the world of the orchestra certainly paid off. Every track features the 64-piece classical powerhouse in a fitting manner. Beck’s take on “Corpus Christi Carol” utilizes the orchestra for a somber backdrop upon which he plays his beautiful guitar melodies. The soft two-and-a-half minute instrumental intro serves as a sign of themes to come later in the album.

Immediately following “Corpus Christi Carol,” the record jumps into the best song on the album, “Hammerhead.” Starting off with a fuzzy, wah-laden guitar, the song leads you head on into a heavy, progressive riff played in unison by Beck and his orchestra. The rest of the track fluctuates between Beck’s tumultuous solos and the catchy riff. It’s here that Beck performs some of the more exciting guitar work on the record – definitely a track to watch out for live.

The next cover on the album is a fascinating version of “Over the Rainbow.” Over the beauty of the orchestral strings, Beck masterfully manipulates his guitar to truly make it sing the classic tune. He uses volume tricks at times to make his guitar emulate a violin, and in combination with his emotive playing, the end result is an eloquent and gentle guitar symphony.

Beck brought in Joss Stone to do vocals for his cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” It’s a solid song, coming off like a Santana track with R&B elements and the combination of guitar solos and lyric verses. Unfortunately, this song just seems out of place when compared to the other instrumental, guitar heavy tracks.

As I said before, “I Put a Spell on You” and the other tracks featuring vocalists seem to cause a divide in the album when juxtaposed with the other five. Even though a couple of them are not even too vocal heavy, the entire feel of “I Put a Spell on You,” “Serene,” “Lilac Wine,” “There’s No Other Me” and “Elegy for Dunkirk” is different from the other tracks. Variety on an album is good, but unfortunately, a key connecting element seems to be lacking between these five and the other songs on the album. Even though many of them are covers or unoriginal tunes, the atmospheres that the instrumentals give are those of expressive experimentation, clearly led by the guitar virtuoso performing them. The other tracks come across as shallower tunes more akin to pop songs. This kindred doesn’t agree with the prevailing theme of the album – an experimental, guitar driven record.

“Emotion and Commotion” is most certainly a record with lot of emotion – perhaps lacking in the commotion. The album features a few excellent songs that truly show off Beck’s legendary guitar skills. Though it could most certainly do with more instrumental symphonic guitar fusions, the remaining songs are decent in their own right. If you’re a fan of Beck, this isn’t a bad addition to your collection; however, if you want to be shown why Beck is the guitarist that he is, you may need to look elsewhere.