Let’s be clear: Odelay was a LONG time ago. While he’s managed to remain on the charts, the last huge crossover “hit” Beck had was in 1996 with “Where It’s At” and that was twelve years ago. The sooner we all get over that fact, the more we’ll be able to enjoy his work since.
Modern Guilt comes with a bit of baggage. After his last album, The Information, was met with a collective yawn, many of Beck’s fans are wondering if he’s lost his groove. The announcement that Mr. Hansen would team with producer of the moment, Danger Mouse, piqued a lot of interest and had people wondering if that meant another hit was in the works. Well, I suppose that depends on what you mean by a “hit.”
There isn’t a song on this album that will match the radio friendliness and pop finesse of the songs that put Beck on the map. You won’t find a sing along chorus like “Loser” or “Where It’s At” nor will you find an all out funk down as we heard on 1999’s Midnight Vultures. Looking for the Summer Jam of 2008? You’re unlikely to hear one of these new songs on Q101.
So, what will you find?
What you will find is more of what Beck has been perfecting since 2002’s Sea Change. You will find a cohesive soundscape and intriguing production that could only come from the vast record collections of Beck and Danger Mouse. There are amazing guitar tones and groovy drum beats. There are swirling, scratchy organs rescued from your grandma’s family room and allowed to howl and wail like the electronic clarions they were meant to be. There are bass lines that would bring a tear to Paul McCartney‘s eye. And there is some backing that has the Wrecking Crew bobbing their heads in thanks. There is a sense of history in this album, and that’s what always makes for the best jams in my collection.
Sure, this album is pretty similar to Gnarls Barkley‘s latest and that might bring justifiable questions about Danger Mouse’s ability to be anything other than a one note wonder, but for now that note is ringing pretty sweetly. “Orphans” and “Walls” feature the best of early 60s pop with sharp snares and handclaps. “Gamma Ray” could be lifted from the greatest camp spy film you’ve never seen, and “Chemtrails” has already been noted on this site as being a direct descendent from Greek Psych-outs Aphrodite’s Child wig out, “The Four Horsemen.”
It’s not all great though and some of the same traits that left a good portion of Sea Change and way too much of The Information a bore are in evidence here as well. Beck’s fascination with mood over song does leave you wanting. Beck’s rush to press in order to beat the leakers and P2P file sharers may have had the old boy hearing the hoof beats and perhaps got it out the door before the dough had settled. Mixed metaphors? Yep, just because it’s Beck.
The hosts of public radio’s Sound Opinion rate their reviews by a Buy it, Burn it, Trash it scale. I’d say buy Modern Guilt and then burn the best tracks for your friends. They only like the hits anyway.