Review Summary: Beck's latest release dabbles in hip hop, funk and techno and the overall quality is mixed- recomended for Beck fans, not recomended for newcomers.
Considering this is the man's ninth studio album, you gotta cut Beck some slack. He's covered an infinite number of genres, from bluegrass to hip hop and even had a 2:30 stint with blunt punk rock. It's been ten years since he's released the unanymous classic Odelay, merely four since the acoustic-dripped Sea Change. About twenty or thirty classic songs, no purely below-average albums and seemingly a different face every album, Beck deserves his place as a genre-hopping genius.
Let's hold up at Becks' latest release, 2006's The Information. It's been little more than a year and a half since his re-hashed (but good) Guero, he's had a kid, and it seems since Guero he's gotten a couple cell phones and Game Boys along the way. The man's done alot, that's for sure, but has he really kept his geniuinity along the way? For most artists, the answer would be simple - no. But for someone as diverse and consistant as Beck? Well, read on...
Skimming through the track list, one doesn't really seem to see many eye-popping words that would indicate creativity. "Think I'm In Love". "New Round". "The Information". One might be brought to draw comparisons right there, but it really isn't until you the hear the album that you really get reminded of 1995, for better or for worse. The lead single, "Nausea", is a perfect marriage of hip hop and bluegrass, with the fierce acoustic guitar and bass-rinsed rhythms. "No Complaints" is a minor-key groove-fest, filled to the brim with subtle fuzz-attacks, lack of musical interest and Beck's almost-mumbled vocals. "We Dance Alone" is a dance number set to the music of a cell phone from 1982, and as crazy and lame as it sounds, Becks' stupendous rapping keeps things from dipping below the "this is pointeless" line. But this represents a problem - it seems on specific songs that indicate futuristic/retro sounds from GameBoy and Nokia alike, the music doesn't hold your interest for any longer than two minutes, so Beck pumps things up with mostly un-interesting raps or vocal performances to keep things real. Unfortunately, this isn't "Where it's at" in the least. This is where it isn't at.
But lack of reality aside, this album really does showcase Beck's fascination with acoustic guitars, moaning vocals and hip hop beats very well. "No Complaints" is a purely stripped down piece that occasionaly cheats with a dancing keyboard swipe, with it's interesting bass patterns and flute solos. Also, this shows one of the spots on the album where Beck actually sounds somewhat interested in what he's doing. "Cellphone's Dead" sounds like something straight out of a suburban jungle, with it's crazed percussion, robot-chant synthesizers and one of Becks' better rapping performances that strangely disintegrates halfway through the song. The chorus, though not that different is a even catchier with the strange addition of foreign-karaoke backup vocals and a slower vocal performance. Clearly this is a setting for the album, appearing at #3 and laying out the format for the album - Catchy as hell, sometimes lazy and processed to the limit. This applies to the horribly out of place "Movie Theme". The last thing this album needed, especially nearing the end, is a spaced out jam session without the jam. Unenergetic synthesizers and vocal performances are somehow tied up to the hip hop feelies of "The Information" and the supposedly "epic" conclusion "The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton". It doesn't make any sense for not only the song's position on the album, but for it's appearence on the album period.
Regardless of dispositioning and lack of energy, some songs need not apply to either and shine brightly way past the average of the album. "1000BPM" would sound wonderfully at home on Odelay without sounding like a "Where It's At" clone. This time, the strange cell phone noises are welcomed and enjoyed as they actually fit in to the song. Becks' best vocal performance on the album don't sport moaning, epic deep choir-boy growls but hold his suprising gangster rap performance. "Strange Apparition" is another mixed-up song that crams gospel, hip hop and 60's era jam rock into one four minute package. The hammering piano, the gospel choir vocals and the smooth transitions that one may not even be able to identify all score as winning points and this song turns out to be one of the better on the album. Things really seem to tense up throughout the middle in a good way, and show a more diciplined and controlled Beck. "New Round" is a drinking ballad in the highest order with his cascading vocals and poppy acoustic guitar. "Dark Star" is a more mature space jam that doesn't over porportion things, therefore making it alot more listenable than imaginable. But strangely, this is as diverse as the album gets, surely a con for the religious or even casual Beck listener.
Now, I must admit, I was a little iffy when I first heard "Nausea". It's a more foreign territory for me with Beck - I've never truly been a fan of his thumping hip hop hoe-downs. It's acoustic guitar strumming at high speeds over an array of pronounced bass sections and drums are not a legend make, but it's these simple qualitites and impressive key changes in the chorus that make this song grow on you like a weed. Beck's casual yet not lazy vocal performance and the consistancy of the foot stomping music are all good qualities that remain entertaining even after the dozenth or so listen. This is another highlight of the album, which also happens to be a single - something not particularily new to the man.
Well, here it is, probably my highest anticipated album of the year and while Guero was Odelay regurgitated, things even out on The Information. For one, we see Beck trying something new on a number of tracks (namely the whole techno fascination), his continuing fascination with funky bluegrass and mind-blowing White-Boy-Rapper skills, but on the other hand it's really the lack of energy, passion and even enjoyment the music has that throws the listener off track and into the skipping lane. But in the end, the good outperforms the band by just a hair and The Information turns out to be a wholly enjoyable listen mostly for Beck fans. Newer fans of Beck should hold off this release until they pick up his essentials which pretty much eat this album alive.
Plus, the album comes with a sticker book and you get to make your own cover. How awesome is that?