To give the illusion of heightened understanding or deeper personality, artists will undergo character transplants.
Side effects vary; common symptoms include inflammation of the cranium and loss of touch with fans, who themselves experience
second-hand effects of nausea and depression that come with wasting $15. See Madonna and Sting for details. Beck, on the other hand, has made a career of leading listeners into dark alleys, unsure of whether they end in thornless gardens or cold encounters with dead-end walls.
The 36-year-old has changed directions so many times, he could lose a cop’s pursuit. However, instead of inventing a new sound, Beck stirs old ones to give you something as odd and refreshing as an ice-cream float. Combining the somber straightforwardness of 2002’s acoustic “Sea Change” with the ass-shakiness of 2005’s “Guero,” the self-proclaimed loser makes the apocalypse sound like fun on his latest album “The Information.”
The boyish baritone sifts through a junkyard of emotions, hurling jaded technological views, forlorn expectations and existential apprehension
to the forefront.
No longer recorded with just two turntables and a microphone, Beck’s “Information”
may be his closest brush with hip-hop to date. The album is so jumping, you’d think it played on a trampoline.
Acclaimed producer Nigel Godrich, who’s credited with infusing Radiohead with bits of electronic music, appears on his first Beck album since “Sea Change” and brings the future sounds with him.
The snarling, toe-tapping backbeat of “Nausea” parallels the funk of Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and its ominous lyrics:
“I’m a seasick sailor on a ship of noise/ I got my maps all backwards and my instincts poisoned.”
The juxtaposition of joyless lyrics and jaunty funk leaves one too busy busting moves to care what ‘juxtaposition’ means.
The first 10 tracks sound like a countdown
list not hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
The Missy Elliot-esque “Cellphone’s Dead” features wide vocals by Beck, a bohemian
beat and some random baby cooing; Beck raps on “Dark Star” and canters jerkily with his guitar on “No Complaints.”
It is only when one pays attention to the words does the gleam of despair appear. This does not hold true for the giddy tune, “I Think I’m In Love.”
“Whisperin’ her love through a smoke ring smile/ She doesn’t know what happens when she’s around,” Beck sings, “I think I’m in love/ But it makes me kinda nervous to say so.”
Although such mawkish lyrics could pass off for the stuff inside a 12-year-old’s diary,
Beck, in his monotonous drawl, strips the pretensions of love for something simple and heartfelt.
Instead of speaking to his first love, he becomes a father figure five songs later on “New Round.” In it he quietly prepares his newborn for life without him: “Every little word/ Every little step/ Every new direction/ The closer you will get/ And farther away/ You’ll go from where we are.”Another five songs later, Beck foams from the mouth with craziness on “Motorcade”: “The sky creatures dance/ In a parking lot wind /That blows from a tundra/ Where the jungle begins.”
With the capriciousness of a bipolar homeless person riding her menstrual cycle on high gear, Beck seemingly jumps from a nonsensical tone to a confessional one in the twist of a tongue. The augury of the album’s schizophrenia comes to fruition on the final cut, “The Horrible Fanfare/ Landslide/ Exoskeleton,” where, in the stark backdrop of alphorn callings and ghoulish hymns, Beck explores his fear of time altering an album’s original meaning before taking one giant leap of logic into the realm of space travel. He simply surmises, “And that’s why you need a spaceship.”
Perhaps the veneer of an aging rocker’s existential pondering or just the byproduct of a blunt, Beck’s words have never been so hard to label as cryptic, banal or endearing. Twelve years after Beck posed the question, “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?” an answer surfaces: besides being pretty illegal, we want to know what he’ll do next.
Steve Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.