The Music Box's #16 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2006, Volume 13, #11
Written by John Metzger
After Nigel Godrich helped to turn Radiohead’s OK Computer into a universally heralded masterpiece, he became one of the most sought after producers in the music industry. The problem, however, is that many artists hired him under the misguided belief that he was the key to (rather than an element of) Radiohead’s success, and, therefore, that he could turn anything into gold. Although outings like Air’s Talkie Walkie, Pavement’s Terror Twilight, and Paul McCartney’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard were far from disastrous, the juxtaposition of Godrich’s style with that of his partners wasn’t entirely seamless. Consequently, the beguiling frameworks that he concocted awkwardly propped up lesser compositions, and in short, some of the material was more interesting for the textural backgrounds that were employed than for the actual execution of their otherwise sound concepts. Even Radiohead suffered a similar fate on its 2003 endeavor Hail to the Thief.
Beck is the one artist with whom Godrich seems to be fully compatible, and the duo has yet to falter. Like kids in a candy store, they have pushed each other creatively, and their efforts have yielded a pair of gems in the love-ravaged Sea Change as well as the death-stalked Mutations. At first glance, their latest collaboration The Information appears to be a lesser work, largely because its songs — even more than those on Guero — are reassembled from the components of Beck’s prior endeavors. In particular, Mellow Gold and Odelay are well represented within The Information’s DNA, but, like the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, Beck’s penchant for both rhythmic patterns and rhyming schemes fits so perfectly inside Godrich’s foreboding and moody atmospherics that what is created is something both familiar and new.
The entirety of The Information is intricately arranged in a style that is as precise as Brian Wilson’s grand gestures on Smile, though Wilson never concocted anything that is nearly as queasily delirious. Throughout the affair, Beatle-esque string sections (Dark Star) and elastic Taxman-derived bass grooves (Think I’m in Love) collide with the clattering polyrhythmic paranoia of the Talking Heads (Cellphone’s Dead, 1000BPM), while numerous allusions to the Rolling Stones are scattered within the disorienting, hallucinogenic, beat-driven melee. Strange Apparition, for example, sounds like a modernized excerpt from Their Satanic Majesties Request, and hints of Sympathy for the Devil are tucked amidst the percussive grooves that underscore the tough, Bowie-esque glam of Nausea.
Much like Sean Lennon did with his recent endeavor Friendly Fire, Beck includes with The Information a DVD that features a video for each of the album’s 15 tracks, but the addendum feels more like a curiosity than an artistic statement. Where Lennon provided a captivating cinematic interpretation of his work, Beck completely fails to take advantage of the technology that he is utilizing. Although the Dolby 2.0 mix manages to get the job done, The Information, with all of its sonic embellishments, begs for a true surround sound presentation, and the lo-fi videos, which overlay with cheap effects the recurring imagery of Beck’s face, a little girl, a guy in a bear costume, militaristic props, and a mock rendition of The Beatles, grow absurdly tedious. Granted, one could make the case that the economical visual representation of the outing is deliberately intended to mirror and magnify The Information’s underlying theme, which revolves around the notion of the media’s bombardment of a solitary, individualistic existence. However, rather than delivering a dizzying, sensory overload, Beck undercuts his message by concocting a frustratingly dull and utterly lackluster companion piece. Regardless, The Information itself ranks among Beck’s better endeavors because, contrary to popular belief, his best music isn’t found in his exuberant, yet flawed early work. Rather, it is contained within the focused experimentation of his collaborations with Godrich.
Of Further Interest...
The Information is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box