I'm a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to Beck, the alt rock troubadour that started his career in the early 90's. To be exact, I started liking Beck about four months ago. While I was doing one of my favorite things, sifting through a $3.00 stack of CDs including endless copies of Michael Bolton and Britney Spears discs to find those rare gems found in between, the record store blasted Beck on the stereo. I don't even know what album it was, all I knew is that it sounded lively, unique and fun. So I decided to go on a little Beck kick and part of it was nabbing his new disc, Modern Guilt.
Hyped as his collaboration with the Producer named Danger Mouse, Beck defies all of my expectations with the new album. That's not necessarily a good thing since I just started listening to him, but I'll play along. Modern Guilt is a somber disc with much of the bouncy wit I was getting into removed. The hallmarks of Beck's sound are intact, things sound a bit askew as dance beats and electronic blips merge with oddball pop instincts and folky guitar. And always adding something new, Beck has a touch of 60's pop in the feel of this one which softens things a touch. In spite of this, Beck sounds remote and distanced-often singing in hushed tones as if he's mumbling into a microphone 30 yards away.
That's not to say the tranquilized version of Beck can't come up with good songs. Gamma Ray has the most life to it with a pleasant surf rock groove to bounce along to. The title song also has some signs of playfulness with its jaunty beat and Atari sound effects. Replica combines a tolling keyboard bell sound with a rapidly shuffling rhythm and swoony voices to make you feel like you're trapped in a Macy's elevator. You feel subjected to mass media advertising and consumerism to a degree that is as anxiety inducing as it is soothing and comforting. That's a bit of a stretch, but that's what I got out of it.
Beck has followed his muse to create new music that is challenging and distinctive. Taking modern dance beats and stripping them down to fit fairly melancholy sounding songs and a subdued persona has created music that seems filled with a dissociative sense of dread. The album title Modern Guilt is very fitting because that's pretty much how I felt when hearing this disc. It's not quite the Beck album I thought it would be, I found this to be mildly enjoyable with some good parts and respect the artist's drive to push forward in an uncompromising fashion.