Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Beck / "Modern Guilt"

As years and albums pass, I suspect "Guero" marked the end of Beck's importance and inventiveness. On that album, Beck more or less followed the mold of the best songs in his catalogue and then slapped a new label on it (see: "E-Pro" versus "Devil's Haircut"). He followed it up by remixing his rehashes as the entirely unnecessary "Guerolito". After that came "The Information", which despite moments of inspiration, was still Beck's worst album to date. His descent continues with "Modern Guilt", which manages to bring together two unlikely pairings: Beck Hansen and boredom.

On "Modern Guilt", producer Danger Mouse continues on his roll of making exciting artists sound tedious, following his efforts with The Black Keys' "Attack and Release" and Gnarls Barkley's ill-fated "The Odd Couple". The album has no idea what it's shooting for, which worked for "Odelay", but instead of shooting in all directions at once as that masterpiece did, Danger Mouse and Beck take time to aim and still misfire before trying to find momentum in a different sonic area. "Gamma Ray" aims for the irresistible pop of "Odelay" and "Midnite Vultures", but is neither interesting enough to draw the listener in nor catchy enough to warrant repeated listens. "Youthless" rides a robotic beat as a pseudo-dance number in the vein of "Hell Yes", but becomes redundant. "Replica" is a sloppily-executed song where the duo of Danger Mouse and Beck attempt to throw enough disparate elements together until it turns out to be something extraordinary. While some of the pieces are interesting, when mixed together the bright individual colors come out grey.

While "Modern Guilt" may be defined by its shortcomings, there are still successes to speak of. "Soul of a Man" stomps in with a distinct guitar chord and thick drums as Beck asks "what makes the soul, the soul of a man?" It's certainly not the best song Beck's ever recorded, but it's far from boring. However, if even his brightest moments on current discs pale in comparison to what lies in his past, it raises the question of the relevancy of Beck's current work. His past albums either nourished the ADD-inflicted consumer culture of today by creating musical and lyrical splatterings across an ever-changing canvas of genres ("Mellow Gold", "Odelay", "Midnite Vultures"), showcased Beck's underappreciated gifts as a songwriter and his folk roots ("Sea Change"), or both ("Mutations"). "Modern Guilt" is indecisive in what it wants to be, and ultimately becomes little more than 'Beck's 10th Album'. I'll do with it what I did with "The Information": listen to it for a handful of weeks, delete it from my Zune to make room for something new, and only recall it when 'Beck's 11th Album' comes out and I need something to compare that album to which it won't be dwarfed by.

If you'll excuse me, I've got to listen to "Odelay" again now and sigh.

Rating: 4.6

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