Beck, so the rumour goes, is not a fan of flying. He doesn't like embarking on big tours, and isn't a fan of travelling long distances.

That, the rumour mill continues, is why the sprightly musical chameleon hasn't come back to New Zealand for more than 20 years.

But, on the phone, Beck quickly puts those rumours to rest.

They are, he says, absolute rubbish.

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"I travel all the time," chirps Beck Hansen, the sprightly 47-year-old who has just released the most upbeat album of his career, and, possibly, the year.

"I've had a life of travelling long distances ... there are really not a lot of places I haven't been on tour."

Which is just as well: Beck has been confirmed as the headliner of the second outing of Auckland City Limits, returning to Western Springs on March 3 next year.

He headlines a bill that also includes Grace Jones, The Avalanches, Justice, Phoenix, Peking Duk and The Libertines.

It's already a stacked line-up, even with a second announcement due before the end of the year.

But for the festival's promoter Campbell Smith, Beck is the big one. Beck is a coup, Smith's white whale, an artist he's adored and wanted to bring to New Zealand for years.

He tried to reel him in for ACL's 2016 debut but couldn't quite land him.

But Smith says Beck's the perfect headliner for the festival's second leg, following on from Kendrick Lamar at the first.

"Artists that really kill festivals are the guys that go, 'You know what? I'm going to pull in as many people as I possibly can to have them focused on me, so that by the end of my set the entire place is concentrating on what I'm doing'," says Smith.

"He's one of those artists. He's got the hits, he hasn't been here for 20 years ... he's got a hot new band, and the record's just come out and ... it's an up tempo, really summery-sounding record. I'm really happy about that."

Campbell's talking about Colors, Beck's 13th album that takes a completely different route to his Grammy-winning 2014 effort Morning Phase, an album that had a feet-up-on-the-porch-at-sunset feel to it.

Colors shimmers like a summer heatwave. It might have been controversial with critics but there's no denying that a festival is the place to see dayglow pop stunners like Wow, Up All Night and Dreams play out live.

Beck, alongside big name pop producer Greg Kurstin, says it's exactly the kind of record he wanted to make. But to get there, he had to embark on a bit of a musical journey, one he thinks probably started more than a decade ago.

"I had made a bunch of different kind of music leading up to this. I did The Information, which was more experimental, a bit thrown together, like creating a beautiful mess," he says.

"Modern Guilt is something we did quickly. It's kind of dark, it has a closed feeling to it. Then I made a bunch of music that was much more experimental ... then I was working on Morning Phase, which was much more of a quiet and contemplative personal record."

Colors was Beck's response to all of that, one that felt like "complete freedom".

"I wanted to hear something bold and bright and unapologetically exuberant. So when it came to working on this, it felt like it would be fresh and new and clear and strong and it's just where I wanted to live musically for a while."

He lived there for a long time. Colors was "pretty much done" when Kanye West interrupted his Grammy Award acceptance speech way back in 2015.

So why the long wait to put it out?

"I was pretty stubborn where I kept working on it till it got more and more finished ... There's that little thing inside you when you know that it is what it should be."

Beck's been hitting the road for it, testing material with an opening slot for U2's recent stadium shows.

And there's good news for fans heading along to his New Zealand show: Beck says he'll be playing plenty of his back catalogue at Auckland City Limits, promising a set spanning the length of his career.

"There are certain [songs] that are feeling good this year, songs like Loser, Where It's At and E-Pro," he says.

"Those songs continue to just be in the set all the time, we've been playing a song called Go It Alone a lot, we've been playing Wow from the new record quite a bit, and Black Tamborine is always a good one to play live.

"We play a mix of lesser known things and the things all the fans know."

And yes, he'll be getting on that plane. "I'm sure we will be there," declares Beck, before hanging up the phone. Hopefully to go pack his bags and prepare for take off.

LOWDOWN
Who: Beck
Performing live: Auckland City Limits, March 3, Western Springs Stadium
Also: New album Colors, out now