REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/30/2006
If it’s true that Beck is the Bob Dylan of Generation X, then Beck must be in the same funk that Dylan was in during the late ‘70s.
Just least year, he teamed up with the Dust Brothers to release Guero, an album that was said to be a return to his Odelay roots; most critics, though, failed to mention that a good number of Beck fans were not necessarily waiting for such an album. One of the biggest joys in watching Beck’s shape-shifting antics is waiting to see what guise he’s going to adopt next. That’s why Guero sounded more like a retread of previous glories than an album that would identify any sort of artistic development.
The fact that The Information came out a year after Guero isn’t a cause for celebration. Some fans, myself included, were secretly hoping Beck would take some time off to recharge his creative juices and come out with something that would be as varied as Midnight Vultures was after Mutations or as Sea Change was after Midnight Vultures. But he’s Beck – meaning he’ll release what he feels like when he feels like, and part of being a fan is recognizing that.
Some review sites have speculated what a great album Beck could have released if only he took the best elements of Guero and The Information and fused them into one album. It would have probably sounded like a mess, since both albums have distinct styles. Guero was the product of the Odelay-era Beck, produced by the Dust Brothers, and The Information is the product of the Sea Change/Mutations Beck, produced by Nigel Godrich.
Releasing two albums in less than a year is hardly a reason to be concerned about quality. Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Zeppelin and The Beatles all recorded back-to-back classics within a year of each other. But there can be an argument against being too prolific, as Beck's streak is more like Sufjan Stevens (whose welcome is quickly being worn out with a Christmas album and a B-sides album released this year) and less like Dylan. Coming in at over an hour, The Information sounds more like a collections of outtakes from Sea Change and less like a full-fledged album. Even the ‘make your own album’ kit, which features a collection of stickers in the packaging, seems more like a cheap ploy to get people to buy the disc.
Even though The Information seems destined to be one of the forgotten albums in Beck’s career, that doesn’t mean the album is devoid of some obvious highlights. The string arrangements of “Think I’m In Love” help make it one of the most beautiful songs Beck’s ever recorded. “Dark Star” has a great, menacing vibe and “Movie Theme” would have been a great ending to the album.
As for some of the other songs, let’s just say that Beck makes a great case for iPods or MP3 players. The ten-minute closer “The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton” doesn’t give you any incentive to trod through its excess and the cluttered “Nausea” has to be one of the worst songs to select as a potential hit on this album. Lyric-wise, “No Complaints” reflects the general laziness of songwriting that permeates throughout the album: “No complaints / But I wish I had more time for my brain / I’d like to walk / But the sun doesn’t know we’re awake.”
If this were a B-sides collection, it would have been an amusing, if somewhat fascinating look at where Beck is artistically in 2006. As an album, it’s not a crushing letdown. It’s almost worse: a pedestrian Beck album with a few moments of brilliance sprinkled in.