Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Beck to the Future

Just when we suspected that the old master of reinvention and cultural cut n' paste Beck had finally slipped onto autopilot, he comes out with "The Information". This is an album that's divided opinion right down the middle: muted and over-mature complain the nay-sayers; an endlessly engaging bricolage of pop music history condensed into a concept album on the theme of information overload, argues the defence.

You imagine Beck's quite happy to have polarised opinion so neatly. It's certainly a demanding record to get into, lacking the immediacy of "Odelay" and "Midnite Vultures" and yet, despite being produced by Nigel Godrich, it doesn't stick within the downbeat psych-folk territory of his previous Beck productions, "Mutations" and "Sea Change". Instead, it cleverly pulls together the two disparate threads that seem to have been running through this most idiosyncratic career - those big budget album conceits and the low budget folk that has plugged the gaps between them.

Whilst the record excels when both producer and artist are in territory that they’ve mined brilliantly in the past, even the Beck-by-numbers tracks like “Think I’m In Love” reward repeated listens. On “1000 BPM” and “Motorcade” Godrich turns digital tricks worthy of Berlin’s electronic vanguard, sounds that wouldn’t crop up on a record produced by "Odelay" mainbrains, the Dust Brothers. And the Eno-esque “Movie Theme” only reinforces the suspicion that this pairing is as close to the Bowie-Eno axis as we’re likely to hear this year.

The usual magpie references to the pop canon – the Stones, Herbie Hancock, even the LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” suggested on “Inside Out” - are lovingly applied. But this time Beck’s painting on a grander scale; conceptualizing the record around the information overload that’s robbed his past achievements of the context in which they once seemed so radical. When every kid’s computer is a sampler and every broadband connection a pop cultural library of possibility, the old tricks aren’t enough. So, he’s turned his gaze back on himself and created a record that brilliantly summarises and even critiques his own achievements.


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