The Information – Beck
One of the few things worse than a subpar new Beck album, is dreading having to listen to the next one. Given what Beck has meant to contemporary music over the past decade — and, let's be honest, he's long since proved that he's the real canon-defining deal — that's a terrible fate. Holding up the 15 songs on The Information, none of them seem particularly wrong or even bad. It’s more that they just don’t really seem like anything.
Describing it, "Cell Phone's Dead" sounds like genius. It falls from this strange Beatles-harmonied lurch into a disco-funk, over which Beck spits typically awesome lines, like "been a long time since the federal dime made a jukebox sound like a mirror on my mind." There's a cool chorus ("cell phone's dead / lost in the desert"), a sample (sung by a kid: "one by one, I'll knock you out"), and a scratch break (with a piano figure beneath it) that reconciles the disco-funk with the weird-ass lurch-beat, and brings the song on home. Sounds dope, right? I just wish I could remember the chorus, the verse melody, or even the groove (which could sound like a malfunctioning robot, but instead sounds like a pre-set).
Most tracks suffer similarly. Everything is clever and well-executed. "Strange Apparition" is an over-saturated Exile On Main Street rocker, whose chorus almost has a hook. "1000BPM" has a sick beat — like something from Four Tet’s Madvillian remixes, and slathered with 8-bit goodness — but Beck treats it like a novelty, and the song never quite takes off. "Think I’m in Love" is memorable, and has enticing little multi-tracked breaks between choruses, but a lite-funk bassline (and sentiment) that seem downright banal from a man who one gave us hooks like "I wanna defy the logic of your sex laws!" Even "Motorcade," which starts off as a wild electro-mountain-hollar, somehow twitters and fades from memory before it’s over.
Beck Hansen is a smart man. And, in the current issue of Wired, where he’s on the cover under a banner that says "The Rebirth of Music," he says many, many smart things. "I’d like to find a way to let people truly interact with the records I put out — not just remix the songs, but maybe play them like a videogame," he ponders. He talks about "giving the music legs" by making pointedly amateurish YouTube videos for every song, issuing the album with fully customizable cover art, and wishing "to put out an album that you could edit and mix and layer directly in iTunes." One presumes the remixes will be forthcoming.
This could be The Information’s saving grace: the fact that it is literally the information, bits and bytes and images to be chopped up and rebuilt. Last time out, Guero’s remix disc, Guerolito, was light years more adventurous than Guero itself (and that’s not even counting the EP of 8-bit reimaginings). There are some pretty tasty bits — a break here, a beat there, a vocal inflection there — that might effectively be summed with different parts and willed into something I wanna listen to over and over and over. Here’s hoping.