CD Review: Beck, "The Information"

3 Stars

Beck has never been accused of pigeon-holing himself; throughout his career he has delivered multiple sounds and textures with each new album. Last year’s delivery, “Guero,” was met with mixed reviews—some thought Beck had run out of innovative ideas and was forced to revisit the sounds of his previous albums, while others called the album not a mere re-visitation but a fresh and creative re-invention.

Beck’s newest album, “The Information,” seems to follow suit—Beck doesn’t give us anything truly new on this album, and the few inspired moments it contains don’t make it worthwhile to listen to the entire album.

For “The Information,” Beck left his most recent producers, the Dust Brothers, behind to work with Nigel Godrich, whose previous credits include Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and Beck’s outstanding “Sea Change.”

No displays of instrumental virtuosity here—the emphasis is on producing the right blend of sounds and textures. Electronic noises and airy harmonies abound throughout the album, as well as dozens of instruments and effects, some only used for a fleeting measure or two.

And vocally Beck is more than up to the challenge of flowing from bass and drum grooves into atmospheric vocal melodies and back again.

But there’s still the feeling that Beck is reliant on his old tricks. Opening track “Elevator Music” is pure “Odelay”-style funk, featuring Beck’s signature off-key rhyming and a raw drum beat. On tracks like this one Beck seems afraid to stretch out, sticking with what he’s done before and throwing in some digital sounds for decoration.

Beck’s tenor sounds much better on the album’s more mellow cuts, such as “Movie Theme,” a solid combination of synthesized strings and soft-spoken vocal lines reminiscent of “Sea Change.” Other highlights include “Nausea,” built on a raw acoustic guitar and bass riff, with Beck doing his best Brit-pop vocal imitation. “Strange Apparition” is loveable piano-driven ’90s pop with a nice half-time breakdown at the end of the track.

Beck’s typically nonsensical vocals this time have a dark tinge to them, spinning images of our techno-junk lifestyle that are complemented by the digital effects on almost every track. Lines like “We’re all pushing up a tin-can mountaintop” are indicative of Beck’s jaded vision; he’s unhappy about something, but he’s too oblique to let on exactly what.

On the album’s final track, an extended medley of trippy melodies and off-kilter vocals and spoken word, Beck says “If the soul is a symptom, the condition is you.” Beck’s vocals offer a little of something for everyone—disillusionment and indictment of society (or something) for the doomsdayers, and random bits of absurdity for those who share Beck’s sense of humor.

While “The Information” certainly has its moments, by the time the title track comes around there have been too many re-hashes of the same concept. The grooves and rhymes often are not different enough to be interesting and will probably result in skipping through many tracks to reach the few real gems here.

Fans of Beck’s previous albums will enjoy this one, but those new to Beck should first check out classics like “Odelay” and “Sea Change” before digging into this new (but strikingly familiar) material.