Beck has always been a mixed bag. No one seems to be able to define him, as his musical style varies from album to album (sometimes even from song to song). Odelay, his first critically successful album, mixed goofy white-boy rap with over the top sampling; Midnight Vultures showed Beck imitating Prince, singing in a falsetto over funky dance beats; and Sea Change displayed his talent for writing more serious and mature acoustic material.
Beck’s previous album, Guero, proved to be an oddly assembled mix of songs, with no real cohesion, and sadly, his latest work, The Information, follows suit, offering up over an hour’s worth of hit or miss songs.
“Elevator Music,” the album’s first track, finds Beck furiously spitting rhymes. “A little worse for wear, but I’m wearin’ it well,” he growls as a funky bassline kicks in the background. The opening track, along with “We Dance Alone,” are both great rap songs, showing that even a 36-year-old Beck Hansen can still rhyme with the best of them.
Ultimately, The Information has only very good or very bad songs – nothing in between. The singles “Nausea” and “No Complaints” are great songs that provide Beck with funky beats comparable to those found on Midnight Vultures. Producer Nigel Godrich did an excellent job in mixing these tracks, as various samples, acoustic guitars, and electronic noises all merge successfully.
But alongside these artistic triumphs are complete disasters. “1000 BPM” is quite possibly one of the least interesting rap songs ever created; its beat lacks any melody whatsoever, and is mostly just an ensemble of annoying noises.
“Movie Theme” and “The Horrible Fanfare, Landslide, Exoskeleton” are both far too spacey to be taken seriously, and their vague references to Scientology are just bizarre.
Even more than its predecessor, The Information shows Beck in all of his various states – a goofy rapper, funky R&B star, pop singer, folk rocker, etc. But the lack of cohesion makes The Information feel more like a random collection of songs than an album. “Strange Apparition,” quite possibly the only piano-driven, straight-up pop song Beck has done in years, sounds ridiculously out of place amongst the various rap songs and funk-driven tracks on the album.
It’s not a bad song, but it just feels out of place on The Information, as if it was originally meant for a different album altogether. The same can be said for “New Round,” a somber ditty that sounds as if it would have fit right in on Sea Change.So in the end, The Information is about as mediocre as an album can get. Its songs are either brilliant or utterly horrendous, and it lacks any unity like some of Beck’s previous efforts.
With any luck, Beck can learn from this outing and figure out what direction he wants to take his next album. Maybe, for once, he could stick to that direction, but that just might be asking too much.