Beck has always played with outward projections. To those who want to call him a star, he is the
supreme lowly, culture-casualty. To those who want to see him as the iconic loser the celebrated
slacker he is the ascendant cultural hero who's skipped directly to the two-dimensional, Warholian
stature of Elvis and Joe Camel. He's a sort of self-conscious paradox, not elusive like his cool
rock forbears or bombastic like most showbiz success stories, and this is what always sets him ahead
of the pack. He's a perfect synthesis of outward and inward. A great collagist of cultural ephemera
and a "no money, no honey" bluesman, he's built his career combining otherwise disparate elements,
producing music that works against all odds and sense of critical description. And this is precisely
why he's always been so hard to understand (or lump in a single genre). While most artists approach
our contemporary mountain of human history all the disposable struggles and unfulfilled dreams
that now hide away in an unending matrix of ones and zeros with either disgust and nostalgic
longing for simpler times or the conquesting spirit to climb the heap, Beck begins to rummage
through the pile, disassembling culture in quaint little pieces.
When most people peel the shrink wrap off Beck's new album "The Information," the first thing they
will notice is the blank, graph-paper insert and sticker-pack. Then after fixing the stickers to
their "liner notes," household appliances, and pets, they will notice the accompanying DVD. They may
make the mistake of watching the DVD a lo-fi, vaudevillian charade put out by the animation team
Paper Rad before listening to the album. They will think, "oh, Beck's doing a multimedia thing,"
be somewhat nostalgic for the homemade music videos they made in sixth grade, and put the album
aside. The impression will be that he sounds good, just too much like himself.
We've always expected a new trajectory from Beck and a tip of the hat to musical genres he had not
yet encountered. However, if enough media is digested and synthesized, a self-cannibalized sampling
of your own product is a natural following step. On "the Information" Beck sounds like himself and
this is the greatest surprise he could offer. Yet listeners will soon recognize that this is not the
same Beck they thought they knew.
There is a dark undercurrent in the album, far more inspired and cohesive, I might add, than last
year's "Guero." In Nausea, Beck admits he's a "sea-sick sailor on a ship of noise/ (he's) got his
maps all backwards and (his) instincts poisoned." But while the album might have taken an
introspective turn like the confessional "Sea Change," his vices and adversaries dwell on a less
subjective plane. "It might have been the world that was moving too fast/ caught up in the future
that was drinking the past," he considers in "Dark Star," which moves over Stevie Wonder's "Have a
Talk with God" and invokes the image of a dying star, closing like an eye.
But while some see the album as condemnation of a corrupt and shallow society, and count the
occurrences of violent imagery as protest to our age, there seems to be an absence of anger. The
situation is dire but the storm seems to be over. There may be hope. In "Motorcade" we're given the
image of "a skyscraper on the moon and a man standing in the window. 42 nd floor. There's a light
beaming through the galaxy telling him everything is going to be OK." Then an electro-crunk beat
filters in and it becomes dance-able. The question, "What's wrong with a little random bump/ when
your stereos erupt with the bass drum punch?" is posed in "Elevator Music." The world may be ending
(or has already) and music seems to be all we have left. In "Cellphone's Dead" Beck suggests we
"grab the microphone like a utility man/ fix the beat/ now break the rest/ make a kick drum sound
like an SOS."
This is an album written, literally, on the brink of another time. If meaning here has been shed
entirely by our commercial and material culture, the apocalypse is over and it's time to start anew.
Through the form of the album and the ethos therein, a solution has been offered. Referring to the
artist, the album, or the individual, a speaker on the final track suggests "it has to encompass the
whole world, everything that has been, is and will be, and (can) take it into space." This is the
challenge "The Information" confronts, but like the nature of its content, its success is what each
listener makes of it. Truly the first album of a new age.