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Beck – The Information

October 5, 2006


I’ll admit it, I felt like a little kid when I removed this album from the plastic. Beck really does know how to market an album, that’s for sure. The thing is practically a toy, or at least as close to one as an album will ever get. Beck has always been one for getting out very broad ideas in a very broad way, but they are ideas nonetheless. The idea here is individuality and creation, as shown by the Lego block Beck logo on the front. And actually, also shown by the fact that this logo is the only thing on the front besides a square grid where you can place stickers that are included in the inner sleeve. The same goes for the back cover, except the blank space is all next to the tracklist. Yep, Beck (or maybe his art director or something) made the album art, but the man knows that expressing ones self is very important and fun, so he let you do the arrangements. I have a feeling that different copies of the album have their own sets of stickers too.

And you know what godammit, he didn’t have to do this at all. He so easily could have just released the songs and have been over with it. But instead his aim is to be creative, and in this venture he suceeds with flying colors. I have a serious doubt that anyone else has ever had the idea to let the listener create their own album cover. Beyond this, Beck also makes the purchase a double whammy by including a DVD with low budget but indefinitely interesting music videos for each song on the album. It’s a curious and extremely confusing way of putting out an album, and yet it’s delicious too. It’s not like Beck is trying to make a big statement as opposed to being a smartass or just having fun. If that was the case, he would have just released the album on CD-Rs, or maybe just give the listener a blank CD with the address of some music industry jackass in the sleeve.

In this way, Beck is really trying to detatch himself from the big business music industry bullshit that not only poses a problem for Beck himself, but also for the listener. If Beck wanted to, he could release all of his music on a tiny independant label, or better yet, make his own (really, I’m surprised that he hasn’t done this yet). And yet he seems to have found some kind of comfort in Interscope. Which is why the anti-piracy warning on the back is almost conspicuous. I’m pretty sure the man isn’t that concerned about money, so this almost seems like a thing that he had to get out of the way before letting loose. He has said in interviews that he realizes that the internet age has changed things considerably. Instant information happens. File Sharing happens. Youtube happens. So in a way he trys to accomodate to the situation.

And yet the album itself is pretty much what we have come to expect from an excellent Beck album. It’s varied yes, as that is just what Beck does best. Even considering the spontaneity of Mellow Gold and Odelay and also the themed shape of Mutations and Sea Change, this is a middle ground alongside Guero. The general idea behind the album is to crank out relaxing chill tunes, and usually in a more electronic and synthetic way, deviating strongly from Becks early days as a writer of lazy and occasionally touching folk songs. But then again, the artist has no real need to proove himself, so as he has done before, he really can do whatever the hell he wants and still be effective, which is why almost all of the tracks are great, and not just good, but great in their own individual ways. Of course there are a few clunkers that you can see the direction in but still fail in comparrison to the rest. These songs are later in the album though, after the long haul of fantastic songs. Standouts are I Think I’m In Love, a stellar tune that anyone can relate to, because love really is a curious but beautiful thing. Cellphone’s Dead stands out to, as an eclectic and heavily beat oriented obvious choice for a single that is meticulous and clever with it’s details. The piano-centric Strange Apparition is a glorious throwback to days of pop old, and We Dance Alone, a track around the middle of the disk, is a hypnotic electronic dance groove. The true standout track is Nausea, a rock solid groove with a bit of downhome simplicity, a song that ranks among Beck’s most instantly gratifying and fun with it’s extravagant decoration. And the equally impressive Movie Theme would be a gorgeous closer if it wans’t followed by the traditional strange noise track to wrap things up.

The problems are pretty apparent though. I’m not going to pretend that Beck is anything close to perfect, and he just can’t seem to get his musical demons dealt with, and they still plague him. The main problem is the vocals, which he seems to not even take that seriously anymore. We all know that Beck likes to rap and he can in fact do it well, but more often than not he falls back into familliar patterns when he could have just as easily sang a simple little tune and not have to worry about people getting discouraged with his predictably unpredictable lyrics and raps that always work in the exact same predictable ways. Beyond this, many lyrics are forced with aimless launches through choruses. The lyrics “I think I’m in love, but it makes me kind of nervous to say so” are nothing more than him falling on his ass and not really doing much to recover. Unlike Guero, The Information really doesn’t have too many hooks, and while they are there, they, uh, dance alone few and far between. Also, some songs are just generally uninspired. The 1000BPM/Motorcade/The Information block is horribly tiring and mediocre. These problems do have cushions to fall on, because when the vocals are bad, the great music pulls it back up. And Beck fans also find comfort in the weirdness of even the least accessible songs.

It just seems a shame to me that Beck has not realized his problems and remedied them somewhat. I’ve never been too much of a fan of rap, and while Beck doing it does make the practice more tasteful, he does it somewhat too often now, and no longer in the glamorous pop context that helped out Loser.

But I will be the first to say that I am completely satisfied with this purchase. Considering the fact that I got to make my own cover and feel like I was eight again (yes, that’s good), have the DVD, and be surprised by a generally outstanding album that I was expecting to be mediocre, I got it for about $10 at tower records. Now that’s a real steal if I have ever seen one. The fans will appreciate this the most, and even casual listeners will recognize the signature Beck sound and approach that span the album. First time Beck listeners would think, what the hell is this? But no one was expecting Beck’s everchanging agenda to accomodate to brand new fans so easily. The approach is cool, the music is great, and it’s fricking Beck.

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