’’Paper Tiger’’ by Beck (Song Analysis)
’’Paper Tiger’’ is off of Beck’s Sea Change, released in 2002. The album is notable for its stark contrast to his other albums; there’s no more sampling, it even has string arrangements, and his trademark lyrical style is seemingly traded in for something much more introspective. Despite the album’s general acclaim, some saw the change in sound as his (fake) attempt to become a ’’serious artist.’’ However, I actually think that it beautifully ties into his roots.
Starting with the lyrics. As you can see, they’re definitely a lot different than his well-known ’’Loser’’ era self. The subject matter and imagery are more depressing than funny. However, the way he phrases these things is actually quite familiar. To prove this... take a look at these two passages. Which one is from ’’Paper Tiger’’ and which one is from his old rapping self?
You only got one finger left
And it's pointing at the door
And you're taking for granted
What the Lord's laid on the floor
Looking through a broken diamond
To make the past what it should be
Through the ruins and the weather
Capsized boats in the sea
Example 1 is from ’’Lord Only Knows,’’ on Odelay, and example 2 is from ’’Paper Tiger.’’ Even if you guessed that right (or simply already knew), you can still see the similarity. It’s even delivered in his usual laidback folksy tone. Even with different topics, they're stlll clearly Beck lyrics.
Like most of Sea Change, the song is coated with grand strings, but the most important instruments are actually simple electric guitar and bass. They’re even kinda bluesy. The blending of these folk rock sounds that he's used his entire career with the more classical strings is what gives Sea Change its unique sound.
To conclude, my final point is that at the core of it, Sea Change isn’t Beck trying to be something that he’s not. It’s a natural progression, and it still retains many of his signature elements. Even in this melancholic lyrical context, in this grander sound, it’s still identifiably Beck.
December 1st, 2021