Beck – “Modern Guilt” (2008)

May 15, 2009 at 11:11 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from Blender magazine, July 2008, and was written by Jon Dolan… 


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Ever since Beck declared himself the biggest loser of the ’90s, even his bubbliest chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter whiteboy jams come with a grief-y aftertaste—he’s like a disco duck with a closet full of funeral-black leisure suits. Album 10 is his most frightened since 2002’s acoustic, self-strafing Sea Change, and one of his most gripping. Produced by hip-hop head case Danger Mouse, who is half of Gnarls Barkley, Modern Guilt mixes ancient rock—mainly the incense-and-peppermints-flavored ’60s psychedelia of Revolver-era Beatles, the Zombies and Pink Floyd—with the woozy, abstract beats Danger Mouse manages to turn into freaked-out fun. The results: a very good very bad trip.

Beck and Danger Mouse were destined to be together. The Mouse can’t go out in public without dressing up like the Tin Man or a Jedi Knight. Beck recently toured with a band of puppets doing his songs. Spaced-out music that helped a generation of love-bead farmers locate their inner tree elf is good glue for these oddballs. Yet dappled escapism isn’t their goal. The last Beck album, The Information, warned us that iPhones weren’t making the world any more connected. Here, mind-altering sounds spelunk into a modernity where the ice caps are melting and people need teleprompters to say hello. On “Walls,” with hushed backing vocals from indie misery babe Cat Power, Beck mumbles about “warheads stacked in the kitchen” and “distraction like it’s a religion” like he’s about to pass out THE END IS NIGH! flyers in Griffith Park.

Danger Mouse dunks his terrified pal in a haze of orchestral ooze, echo-chamber piano plunks and skittery, floorless slo-mo grooves that are almost as disoriented as the wacked-out melodies. Even the bubblegum blast “Profanity Prayers” and the ’70s glam-metal riff-crusher “Soul of a Man” are heartsick. “So many people/So many people … Where do they go?” Beck asks on the interstellar odyssey “Chemtrails,” evoking the Paul McCartney of “Eleanor Rigby,” only less cute and way more high. The time for being cute went out with the spotted owl.

Jon Dolan

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