Album Reviews: The Information by BeckMaybe Scientology isn't so bad after all. Since Beck joined the cult a few years back, he's been unstoppable, releasing what I would argue was the best album of his career with last year's Guero and following it up just a year and a half later with The Information, a record so dense and mind-bending it's got to include hidden messages about thetans, dianetics and God knows what else.
The most interesting thing about The Information is that it fuses the funky, junky vibe of Beck's two Dust Brothers-produced albums, Guero and Odelay, with the more melancholy, introspective vibe producer Nigel Godrich helped him achieve on his two most conventional-sounding albums, Mutations and Sea Change. Here, for the first time, Beck gives Godrich the keys to the Dust Brothers' cluttered storage unit of samples, scratches, found noises and rusty synths. The result is an album that retains the somber insularity of Sea Change even as it explodes in a million different directions with the biggest appetite for sonic adventure Beck has shown since his sloppy, self-produced 1999 album, Midnight Vultures.
The biggest problem with The Information is that, for all its fascinating sonic landscapes, it's not Beck's strongest set of songs. There are a few gems, especially a pair of beautifully constructed psychedelic rock anthems, "Strange Apparition" and "Soldier Jane." But too many tracks rely on Beck's awkward, white-boy rapping, which is long on dense, hallucinatory imagery but short on any real sense of rhythm or flow. Occasionally, as on the swampy, shuffling "Nausea," he gives himself a musical backdrop that's less hip-hop and more talking blues, and then his breathless, beat-poet chanting actually works. Elsewhere, as on "1000 BPM," he borders on irritating.
Still, Beck seems incapable of making a bad album, and even on this set's weaker songs ("Cellphone's Dead," "Dark Star"), he and Godrich build such dense, atmospheric layers of sound that it hardly matters whether there's much melody there to hang your hat on. You'll be too busy sifting through the pastiche of colliding musical styles to notice. The Information might be the least accessible album Beck has made since his early, Mellow Gold days -- not to mention his most ambitious. And even though not all of it works, Beck's failures are still a few orders of magnitude more interesting than almost anything else out there. - Andy Hermann
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