“The Information” is Beck’s brain finally collapsing under the stress of compartmentalizing his array of musical genres. You can almost hear the squelch as strands of his kaleidoscopic catalogue gush forth from the grey recesses of his Scientology-addled cerebrum and coalesce into a harlequin musical flux. “The Information” coruscates and crinkles as Beck’s musical universe undergoes a Big Crunch, imploding his previous efforts into a confusing singularity.
For his latest, Beck has once again allied with producer Nigel Godrich, the man whose creative sweat has flecked both “Mutations” and “Sea Change,” as well as the lion’s share of the Radiohead corpus. Production began after “Sea Change” and before “Guero,” but has flooded into the present — a three-year labor that perhaps explains much of the album’s hodgepodge. As can be expected from an album that straddles the emotional divide between “Sea Change” and “Guero,” certain tracks exhibit an acoustic malaise while others represent chirping rhythmic chimeras that hearken back to Beck’s initial mid-90s epoch. But as some aphrodisiac-cum-adhesive hawking mountebank might exclaim, “That’s not all!” In addition to pinballing from melancholy to madcap, “The Information” also manages to incorporate aspects of dancehall dysphoria as seen in “Midnite Vultures,” as well as the charming lyrical gobbledygook indigenous to “Odelay.” If this sounds like a lot of disparity for a single album to manage, that’s because it is. “The Information” taps many laudable elements of Beck’s oeuvre, but it is questionable as to whether these elements are laudable together.
The fiercely competing segments of “The Information” are best encapsulated by the stark contrast between two of the album’s later tracks, “1000BPM” and “Movie Theme.” “BPM,” a gritty, spaced-out jangle with a lo-fi lisp, comes a mere two tracks before the solemn and wistful “Movie Theme” in which Beck yearns for a sedated belonging. “BPM” is pure “Vultures” and “Movie Theme” unadulterated “Sea Change” — the remainder of the tracks are somewhere in between. Cavorting on the “Vultures” side of the spectrum is “Cellphone’s Dead,” a hollow swaying with Caribbean-sounding beats and Nintendo-esque synth, and the album’s opener, “Elevator Music,” a peppy bass and drum compilation with a distinct “Odelay” aftertaste. Channeling “Sea Change” are “The Information” and “New Round,” a flickering baritone ballad with one of Beck’s characteristic crumbling, sample-laden codas. The result of this is “The Information”s general tinge of disorganization. The album plays like a load of Beck B-sides — in every sense of the word. The tracks on “The Info” emulate many of Beck’s past albums but never quite achieve the brilliance of their predecessors.
As is usual with Beck, there is not much sense to be made of the lyrics. “The Info”s rhymes are alluring but postmodern and typically resemble the “Now I’m a straight-line walker/ In a black-out room/ I push a shopping cart over/ In an Aztec ruin” of “Nausea.” Even Beck himself admits that he often has no cogent notion of what he’s attempting to say, which is a refreshingly sincere aesthetic that feels perfectly in sync with the overall Beck mode.
“The Information” is an uneven listen straight through, seeming like a Beck variety pack. Despite this, the album manages to deliver Beck’s customary melodic flair and spastic mumbling magnetism. The album is lunatic but likeably so. Beck’s latest is the Jackson Pollack result of a decade of dabbling in miscellaneous musical genres; “The Information” drips, splashes and oozes pigments of Beck’s past, slopping them haphazardly into a striking tableau that is at once abstract and familiar.