Unforgiven
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Versions:
  1. Unforgiven (4:34)
    Available on Morning Phase.
    Credits
    Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Bass
    James Gadson: Drums
    Smokey Hormel: Ebow, Guitar (Acoustic)
    Stephanie Bennett: Harp
    Ben Baptie: Mix
    Tom Elmhirst: Mix
    Beck Hansen: Piano, Producer, Vocals, Vocals (Background)
 
Lyrics:
Unforgiven [Version (a)]:

Drive to the night
Far as it goes
Away from the daylight
Into the afterglow

Somewhere unforgiven
Time will wait for you

Down on the street
Just let the engine run
'Til there's nothing left
Except the damage done

Somewhere unforgiven
I will wait for you

Somewhere unforgiven
Time will wait for you

Somewhere unforgiven
I will wait for you
 
The Song:

Fans first learned of "Unforgiven" when Beck performed it at a show in May 2013. A few months later, it was revealed to be a part of the 2014 album, Morning Phase.

The song itself is highlighted almost entirely by the melody. On the recording, Beck has stripped the song almost bare, in a way, leaving that melody at the front. Listening closely, there are some other things going on. In fact, the song always felt heavy on the synthesizers/strings to me, but according to the credits at least, there are none! That drone feel comes entirely from Smokey Hormel's ebow. Beck hammers the piano, and buried in there are some acoustic guitar and harp as well. But regardless, like much of Morning Phase, this song avoids all frills, and yet, despite being so minimal in nature, feels like much more.

The lyrics are similarly minimal, so much so, it's hard to find much to say about them. I do like them quite a bit, but I mean they are basically just two lines and a chorus! Every once in awhile Beck writes songs like this, so very minimal, but also so very striking.

The first line reminds me of "The Golden Age" (driving to the light), which also relates to one of the main themes of Morning Phase (finding the morning after the dark). The second verse is from inside the darkness, a metaphor of a stalled car in the street. Being lost and trying to find yourself is one of Beck's most common themes/metaphors, and I take "Unforgiven" as one of his songs that go there. He is driving, not with a destination in mind, but just away: trying to get somewhere and in the darkness of escape, find himself. I take the "I will wait for you" as self-referential, he is waiting for self-discovery, which sometimes needs to happen in a dark place ("somewhere unforgiven").

 
Live:

Played live 11 times:
Earliest known live version: May 19, 2013
Latest known live version: October 9, 2014

pre-Morning Phase live version

Beck played "Unforgiven" once in May 2013, months before Morning Phase was announced or even complete. This song, though, seems to have been fairly well-shaped by then though. He played it an an acoustic show, the song consisting only of vocals, acoustic guitar, piano, bass and a drum machine. The huge drone ebow of the record was either not there yet, or they decided not to replicate it.

2014 version

Beck did not play "Unforgiven" very often in 2014, just 10 times in 57 shows. The first time was well into the tour, show 32, as well. That first version was loose and strangely sort of spazzy. But then it would appear that the band rehearsed "Unforgiven" between legs of the tour, because when they returned, the song felt much smoother and stronger (though possibly less interesting). The song is shortened from the record, mainly in the middle section and ending. Smokey plays electric guitar (or probably an ebow, not sure), so the droning atmosphere is well-replicated (and quite lovely). I feel like if they had played it more often, "Unforgiven" could have been a subtle highlight of the show, but it never QUITE got there in 2014.