Throughout his impressive career, Beck has explored many, many paths — dabbling in funk, rap, tropicalia, metal, folk and psychedlia, just to name a few. He’s released albums I can dance to and albums that make me want to cry in my beer (ok, my Coke). What he hasn’t done, until now, is bore me.
Modern Guilt is not a bad album, by any means. I’ll go so far as to say it’s a good one. But it’s the first Beck album that hasn’t hit me as something brand new. Most of the tracks feel like B-sides to his earlier, better material.
I’ve heard this is the last album he’s releasing for a major label, and it does feel more like a contractual obligaton than an artistic statement. It doesn’t compare to The Information, which was overlong but bursting at the seams with creativity and wit (attributes that extended to even its packaging, which was made up of a blank page and a sheet of stickers, allowing listeners to design their own cover). And it certainly doesn’t compare to Sea Change, a work of cosmic ache I consider the best break-up album of all-time.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a few strong tunes here. ‘Gamma Ray’ blends a surf-rock beat and a distorted vocal line into something that sounds like 1950 by way of 2050; the title track is a straightforward blues rock song with a supremely catchy chorus; ‘Walls’ is a shuffling pop piece that rolls along splendidly but stops abruptly in mid-stanza (keeping it from being the best thing on the album); and the closing track, ‘Volcano,’ is a somber ballad with an uplifting finish that would have fit right in on Sea Change. Problem is, those four songs add up to about 12 minutes of music, and the other 20 minutes don’t add up to much.
I certainly look forward to whatever Beck comes up with next, but I won’t be reaching for Modern Guilt much in the meantime.