Beck – The Information

beckinfo.jpgIf nothing else, Beck’s latest release could provide a nice shot in the arm for retail outlets trying to compete with iTunes and illegal file trading. “The Information” comes standard with a CD and a DVD featuring videos of the album’s 15 tracks. It also contains a sheet of stickers that fans can use to design their own cover.

Try downloading that.

Sure, the videos seem like an afterthought, with the sensibility of “Starsky and Hutch” and “Shaft” melded to the production values of a Hezbollah hostage tape. But their homemade roughness endearingly complements the record’s loose, inventive nature. The DVD also provides a cleaner, shinier sound on the right equipment, and all for the price of a regular CD.

“The Information” continues in the vein of “Guero,” a project that took on a life of its own last year, spawning a coffee table book box set, companion DVD (with a 5:1 mix that’s so far missing from “The Information”) and a remix album, “Guerilito.” Fans will appreciate the punchier sound of tracks like “Nausea” and the throwback anti-folk of “No Complaints”.

A playful mood infuses “The Information.” “Elevator Music,” which evokes Beck’s biggest hit (“Loser”), opens the record with laconic, nonsensical rhyming (“I got a silicon Bible song/paranoid Jumbotron”). There is no better practitioner of white boy angst rap, and Beck shines again on “Cellphone’s Dead,” with the longing, “it’s been a long time/since a federal dime/made a jukebox sound/like a mirror in my mind.”

It’s all framed by an array of keyboard noodling and found sounds; the instrumental credits list Gameboy, Speak n’ Spell and Tote a Tune among the many aural effects in Beck’s musical junktique.

Highlights include some very danceable tracks. “Think I’m In Love” fuses rhythm machines, atonal piano plinking and pristine six-string guitar. “Soldier Jane” features a sinister bass line, phased vocals, a steady beat – and lyrics that make absolutely no sense at all. “Taking heart out of the shell/throw it away” – what the hell does that mean?

It’s of a piece with most of the album. A welcome exception is “Strange Apparition,” a spiritual child of Beggar’s Banquet–era Stones, and one of the more self-aware songs Beck’s ever penned:

“When the Lord rings my front door
and asks me what I got to show
besides the dust in my pockets
and the things that just eat away my soul?”

That’s not deep for someone like Dylan, but for Beck, it’s practically “Stairway to Heaven.” Best of all, it’s got a kickin’ groove.

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