Monday, July 7, 2008

review: Beck - "Modern Guilt"


At first glance, Beck’s latest album is much easier to digest than his last handful of releases. “Modern Guilt” feels like some sort of return to the days of 1996’s “Odelay,” with upbeat and catchy melodies. If anything, however, a close listen makes it clear that the buoyant production is a counter for the increasingly dark and disillusioned artist.

Overall, the trouble felt by an artist who built his persona on fun is painfully tangible. The latest LP is more consistent than past albums, in both sound and lyrical content, but the two don’t match up. That may be a sign for the future of the artist known for his experimentation across nearly every genre, but for now there’s nothing to do but sit back and listen.

Though he doesn’t ditch the traditional nonsensical lyrics, Beck also balances the album with some politically charged undertones.

“Walls,” one of the album’s best tracks melodically, is also one of its strongest lyrically: “You got warheads stacked in the kitchen/ You treat distraction like an instant religion…/ Hey, what are you gonna do/ When those walls are falling down/ Falling down on you?”

Likewise, “Gamma Ray” combines a party beat with an environmental warning: “If I could hold hold out for now/ With these icecaps melting down.”

“Modern Guilt” shows signs of producer Danger Mouse’s handiwork if they’re being searched for, but — as in the case of his work with The Black Keys — the sound is still ultimately Beck’s.
The album also features indie-starlet Cat Power on the album opener “Orphans,” creating a beautiful purring harmony and at others.

The album is incredibly short, with 10 songs clocking in at just over half an hour. Short punches of melody and lyric make sure none of the time’s wasted, leaving the album to seem much more full than it actually is.

“Chemtrails” is the album’s best piece of Beck’s home turf psych-rock, featuring a drum backing by longtime collaborator Joey Waronker. Interestingly, it’s also the only track that doesn’t include any Danger Mouse beats or loops.

The album ends with “Volcano,” a strikingly personal prophecy of sorts: “I don't know where I've been, but I know where I'm going/ To that volcano/ I don't want to fall in, though/ Just want to warm my bones on that fire a while.”