There’s nothing totally new about The Information, which is probably the highest compliment one could pay Beck at this point in his career. His latest album plays like a subdued collection of greatest hits, dropping in on the sounds and themes of each preceding album with graceful brevity. The result is an amorphous, 15-track reverie that ebbs and flows with the many sea changes of Beck’s discography. The first section is full of Odelay playfulness, effusively incorporating samples and down-home acoustics with hip-hop beats. Except Beck’s voice no longer brims with the same blithe indifference; at times, he sounds downright in pain. “Think I’m In Love,” the ultimate rebound anthem, turns burgeoning romance into a potential wreck: “What if it’s wrong?/What if it’s wrong/To pray in vain?” Before Sea Change, a morose masterpiece inspired by a breakup, Beck would’ve deflected such emotionality in classic post-grunge cheekiness. Now Beck is different, as is his position in pop culture. In the ‘90s Beck played the role of the uncool white guy, but now he raps for real (“Cellphone’s Dead”), conjuring up enigmatic commentaries on political disaffection with the best of them: “Throw my hopes/Like a juggernaut walks/Now let-down souls/Can’t feel no rhythm.” As The Information wanes toward an end, it becomes more dreary, less connected, suggesting its creator is drifting into a dark hole: “Now looking for a place/Where the lights unravel/Last ditch road.” Acoustics fall to the background, and hurried electronic beats take over in Nigel Godrich’s impeccable production, offering a peek into Beck’s potential future. Beck has spent 12 years deconstructing musical genres, using samples and beats to bring together the future and the past, and listening to him pick apart himself is just as exhilarating.
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