Review Summary: A mechanical Robert Johnson.
Albums like this cause turmoil among fans. Some say it's a fresh look upon a topic which has been exploited to certain limits, while others call it betrayal and turn their backs. Personally, I prefer to classify music into two groups: good and bad. And if an artist that has been recording blues all his life comes up with a record which doesn't sound anything like what he's done up to now, I will always give it a try. And if it is a good album- I will definitely say that aloud, and without the slightest trace of shame. If additionally a new take on music was provided by a 72 year old geezer, a complete legend, then I will also vocalize my respect to the man. Such is the case with this album.
The X-factor which was the cooperation with two ladies- Carmen Vandenberg on the rhythm guitar and Rosie Bones on vocals. The two girls, allegedly fascinated with musical acts originating from Jack White, had an enormous influence on the way this album plays out. As the root of most of the songs is similar to what was utilized by Mr. Beck in the past- a solid bluesy chord progression- some kind of rejuvenation was definitely needed in order to avoid becoming, well, boring. Because blues, paradoxically, is very hard to play in an interesting way, mainly because of it's simplicity. It isn't that hard to create interesting music when you have a whole set of tools, but it's hard as hell to enchant everybody while being closed in a 12-bar limitation. It totally worked in this case- the album is extremely equal, no song stands out in any way, but at the same time we have a set of very different pieces, which stand no chance of boring anybody. The best example of the wonderful diversity on this album are tracks nr 10 (O.I.L) and 11 (shrine)- the first one is a hot hot hot funk-orientated piece, while the next one is a beautiful ballad- again, not in the cheesy sense, but in a very melancholic way, which will make you think.
Mr. Becks mastery is still very audible and unmistakable. The characteristic way he barely touches the strings when playing (guitarists, remember- it's about the feeling, not the attack) still proves he's one of the greatest guitarists around. Most of the vocals, drums and guitar parts have been heavily distorted by various effects, but not in the negative sense. The effects are by no means corny, but they add new dimension to the music. Imagine a mechanical Robert Johnson, if you will. The whole operation makes this album sound fresh, and I'm usually very precarious with praising new, or relatively new albums (sometimes after 10 years you listen to it again and it just IS NOT what you thought it was before), I am certain that this record is going to stand the test of time. This is also because of the lyrics. I am not a big fan of mixing too much politics into music, or throwing around cliches about the world ending, and us being at fault, but in this case the lyrics don't make you want to throw the disc out of the window- they are simply a record of the times we live in.
Thanks to the incorporation of some younger blood, which turned out to be a perfect bridge between the classic blues and the futuristic jamming which we encounter on this piece of art, we get a perfect blend, which surely will become a way for many people to give blues a chance. And now for one last private memory- I remember thinking about giving this album a try on YT, because of all the brilliant reviews it got, but not expecting much- as usually when a CD is praised to the heavens, I don't really find it appealing. I switched it on my headphones at work (I was alone, on weekend duty), and after 1 or 2 tracks I was already hastily looking for a shop on the way back from work, in order to buy a physical copy. I can't remember the last time I was so immediately taken over by music. And may that be the best recommendation- give it a try.