Beck returns with his latest album this week, something that no doubt his more ardent fans have been awaiting with bated breath. Even the more casual music fan will possibly raise an eyebrow at such an arrival because a Beck album is often something that can polarise opinion. As far as Beck is concerned I’ve always been more of a casual listener to his music, something which I daresay could be changed with a more intense perusal of his back catalogue because in truth there is rarely something he has brought to the table which I have took a particular dislike to.
The same could be said of his latest release, The Information will doubtless please existing fans and do just enough to win some new ones. It’s a familiar sound that should work well enough not to alienate anyone. A swampy bluegrass and beat strewn thing with lots of ancillary bleeps and whistles bolted on for good measure. Kind of like a satellite screaming all the way through space before plunging into the muck of the Florida everglades. There’s a country mysticism to this little collection that we’ve heard before but with enough forward movement to indicate progress.
Tracks like ‘Elevator Music’ have that familiar guttural bass and deep fried southern country accoutrement to them which is reminiscent of his early work on big hits like ‘Loser’. Add to this the rough hewn grasp of hip hop beats and his strangely ageless slacker rap and it quickly becomes a comfortable listening experience for the new and old listener alike.
Elsewhere the current single ‘Cellphone’s Dead’ strolls in like the punch drunk more experienced elder brother of a Gorillaz track with its toybox melody, squelchy phat bass and the rolling hymn like vocal drones that stitch it all together with a practiced air.
Move on one track further in and ‘Strange Apparition’ delivers an effervescent slice of piano that could have been lifted from a late sixties Stones track while ‘Soldier Jane’ drags its arrangements on to dry land for a while giving itself a breathy more airborne style than its deliberately muddy and murky counterparts. It’s a brief respite before dropping back into the watery psychedelia of ‘Nausea’ which is a gritty acoustic number punctuated with ghostly yelps and squeals that sit alongside Beck’s common place stream of consciousness lyrics.
This twilight descent continues on ‘New Round’ with a half buried vocal simmering in the mix like an additional melody rather than a narrative focal point. The voice serves more in a rhythmic capacity here rather than serving up any particular message or story for the listener. ‘Dark Star’ shines with Beck wrapping himself tight around language and giving it a good throttling. Like a freaked out science fiction story moulded in place with a lazy slab of strings for the words to rest upon. There’s enough about it to raise a shuffle on the dancefloor at an indie disco. Its darkness gets briefly broken by the occasional stab of mechanical sound, sweeping chirps and synthesised squeaks. Its followed by the almost Britpop-esque ‘No Complaints’ with its brighter more conventional guitar work (which should sound dated but strangely doesn’t). ‘1000bpm’ doesn’t hit the beat count of its title (I think Moby did that with a track years ago) but gets thrown together like a metallic sculpture overlaid with the audio equivalent of junkyard wreckage samples and a suitably agitated rap to boot. More of an experiment than a song in itself and if not for the clever use of effects it might just not sit too well with its peers.
The theme of experimentation is continued in ‘Motorcade’ with its old school fried electronics and rapid dirty patterned sequencers. The title track ‘The Information’ makes a relatively late appearance in proceedings and is the nearest thing you get to a straight up and down pop moment on the album, and that’s when I include the poltergeist style effects that leer at you all over the track (particularly mesmerising as the track leaks to a close). The album builds to a finish with a gorgeous ambient wash of ‘Movie Theme’ that I hope doesn’t get overlooked as a live piece because it’s a really evocative number.
The album finally closes with an eccentric epic ‘The Horrible Fanfare/ Landslide/Exoskeleton’. Beck gathers his previous arsenal of instrumentation both real and electronic and rolls it up into a ball and kicks it round the studio. The traditions of piano, vocals guitars and drums are gently interspersed with an ebb and flow of weird electronics. The track gently breaks down into a mix of eerie sound, the scratching decks and at one point what sounds like the shipping forecast. It loses its footing gloriously, getting slowly sucked out of sight from what feels like convention into something more reminiscent of a soundscapes that range from the pretty to the pretty spooky to the borderline nightmarish by the time the track reaches the fade point.
As a whole The Information proves to be a consistent body of work. The quality of production is one of the highlights. Deliberate contrasts of sound colour the album as a whole and the contrasting shades of electronics and guitar run through the album in a fluid fashion. Lyrically Beck seems as free form as ever, deciphering any coherent messages might take time and of course be open to individual interpretation but it doesn’t deter from your enjoyment of the musical experience.
Definitely your purchase of this week.