A far from guilty pleasure.
Chris Jones 2008
The ever-youthful Beck has left Geffen and washed up on the friendlier shores of XL. A new label might signal a new approach on this, his eighth album. Well, partly.
It certainly means that Beck's got himself a new producer. It always seem strange that he - the sonic collagist that he is - needed a producer in the first place. Maybe it was just the discipline of someone who knew when to curtail the magpie tendencies that he needed. Here he's joined at last by Danger Mouse, bringing a slightly more organic feel while tightening up the usual kitchen sink approach. Two tracks also feature Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) on floating vocal accompaniment.
At the centre of Beck's universe beats a heart of purest nerdiness. This geekiness is both his strength and his failing. Musically his refusal to accept boundaries and deliver up the patent folky martian hip-hop was what made us love him in the first place. However when it comes to genuine songcraft Beck's never been easy to judge. While his ability to give us tunes of heartbreaking beauty was never in doubt his lyrics are less easy to admire. The cut and paste approach to words seemed playful when pitched against the peppy melange of days of yore. Matched with more conventional pop their obtuseness can tend to give you a headache. Do they actually MEAN anything, or is it just post modern tosh?
This is a transitional album at best. Tracks like the rubber-riffed Gamma Ray or mechanoid funk of Youthless could easily be from either of his last two albums. The lovely Volcano, joins the ranks of maudlin, tired songs that always seem to close his albums. Yet the broken beats of Replica, the odd, string quartet 'n drum spaghetti westernisms of Walls or the Zombies-like single Chemtrails all indicate that the world's funkiest Scientologist has plenty more tricks up his sleeve.
At just over 30 minutes, Modern Guilt is a slight addition in the Beck canon, and it feels vaguely ephemeral and lacking in depth. Where he goes next is anyone's guess. But it'll never be less than fascinating. For now let's just enjoy the fact that we're invited to enjoy the journey as well. A far from guilty pleasure.