Beck Modern Guilt(Interscope) Buy it from Insound
Attempts at comparing Beck albums are futile since each one is an exercise of its own stylistic merit. Still we insist on measuring the impact of the man’s work on his previous accomplishments and/or pitfalls. It’s inevitable. But whether you prefer the scattershot splendor of Odelay or the melancholia of Sea Change, the bluesy wilt of Mutations or the revved-up Guero, Midnight Vultures, Mellow Gold or The Information, the fact persists: Beck is now on his 8th album, and remains unable to be pegged. On Modern Guilt Beck works with producer Danger Mouse to simplify things towards a rhythmic core, and grows starkly serious in the process.
Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Modern Guilt is beautifully brief and focused. Beck’s kitchen sink approach has officially been abandoned for predominantly bass and drum heavy tracks. Beck still siphons some memorable melodies out of these songs, with the catchiest being the summery title track. On the expansive Chemtrails he keeps up the loose vibe with tons of reverb, as he drifts miles away.
Still bleak, Beck talks of “Ice caps melting down,” and “Orphans in a tidal wave’s wake.” As with all of his recent output, the paranoia is grave and aware, rather than his darkly comedic younger years. There’s no more “heads hanging from the garbage men trees,” but this is a good thing. Someone pushing forty should no longer be getting “crazy with the cheese wiz.” The somber speculation on the breezy closer Volcano is fitting, “I've been drinking all these tears so long / all I’ve got left is the taste of salt in my mouth.”
Even looking at it's cover, the whole thing feels as if it were thrown together rather quickly. Danger Mouse’s production is confidant and fitting for Beck and works best on Walls, a sauntering, eastern-string-laden lilt. Apparently Cat Power adds some backing vocals somewhere on a couple of tracks, but she’s pretty deep in the mix and I’ve yet to find her. More than anything, Danger Mouse adds some nice blips and whirs to help Beck hone a more focused work, even if it is at times not the most memorable.
So, to complete the inevitable and diminish everything by unjustly comparing it to his previous works, Modern Guilt falls somewhere in the middle of Beck’s discography. While not the most creative thing he’s produced, it feels naturally cohesive and stands as an interesting piece on its own. Now here’s the part where I project what Modern Guilt means for the future of Beck’s musical output. Is this a stepping-stone in a new direction? Maybe it’s a natural movement towards something greater? Or is it the beginnings of a brilliant return to form? Does it even make sense to compare each outing anymore? We really have to stop doing that, especially with someone like Beck.23 July, 2008 - 15:41 — Brett Oronzio