Saturday, 15 May 2010

Review: The Information (2006) - Beck

I distinctly remember a time earlier on when I started listening to music when impulse buying was my thing. I'd hear a song, enjoy it, and for no explanatory reason proceed to purchase the album for twenty dollars, to which point I'd enjoy it thoroughly regardless as I didn't really have any discretion in music. Then I purchased The Information.

Remember Beck? I do. To this day Odelay still receives excessive circulation on my mp3 player, thanks to the man's forward-thinking wit and ability to craft some tasteful groove. And then there were genre-exercises and soulful guitar melodies for a while, and then I never heard him on the radio.

Ten years after Odelay I was standing in front of the Beck section at a CD store to see a minute poster obscuring some of the Loser-era back catalogue. "New Beck Album!" it enthusiastically stated, "Seventeen new tracks, DVD, Stickers!". Or something like that. I was hesitant to pick it up as several questions swam through my head - why's the cover so bland? Is Beck's name written in lego? Is this really true, a new Beck album? I wonder what genre he's going to hop to this time?

What stickers? He doesn't want me to put them on the cover, does he?

Oh, he does.

So, let's explore the fact that this album is a wondrous marketing gimmick. You see, Beck wants you to buy a physical copy of the album so he can fund his ventures in Scientology. To do so, he gives you a series of stickers and a DVD to sweeten the deal of commercially-buying a CD and being a good consumer. They are genius ideas, and I found them to be very cool ones at that. However, there are a few setbacks to this witty business model, including:
  • The fact that no matter what combination you put the stickers on your album cover, it will look terrible. That's presuming that you received the same sticker sheet as I did - there are apparently a few that are much better and actually have decent background scenery. And ones where Beck is not moody, nor in a sailor suit.
  • Beck's hair. I don't know why, but he seems to like wearing a massive hat and having metre-long straightened hair around this period. Like pasta.
  • The fact that these 'gimmicks' have risen the cost of the album to $30. That's after four years when I went to the store and noted the price the other day - it hasn't gone down a dime, if at all.
  • The fact that the music videos from the DVD (containing all of Beck's songs from the album) are utterly bland. Now this is something that I've deliberated over for a while, but I've concluded that if you have a few friends, some instruments, a giant bear costume, and video editing software that has a 'rape the heck out of green screen' option, you could do the same as Beck. And nearly every video looks like it's been made in the same process.
Let me give you an example. One exception is the admittedly good Strange Apparition video, if not the best on the DVD. It's a wonderful song, Beck's wearing wings and there's a piano-key lady in a mansion. Actual choreography, decent song, so far so good. That is, until the speakers goof and stop the song for five seconds, which Beck decided to keep in the video for laughs.

Someone swears as a reaction to that, then they all fall on the floor laughing, the piano key lady and her equally randomly-dressed friends roll over and we realise how utterly pointless this video is. That's how incredibly lo-fi the DVD is.

The gimmicks and the price, which may have good intentions and be cool for a while, really mean nothing in this review in comparison to the music.

The music is nothing new, but it is fine-enough for the first half. Because, again, we have a case where all the notable songs are crammed into the first half and the filler put in at the end. And this is a long album. There's a ten minute song, which is apparently three songs, but God forbid, the man shouldn't make them gapless if that's the case. You'd be correct in your assertion that it is one of the 'filler' songs.

The genre this time for Beck is alternative. That seems rather broad because it's exactly how directionless the album is. But that really doesn't matter. If the songs are good, there's no reason to dislike an album for its artistic merit.

There are a few tracks that stand out. Elevator Music is standard Beck fare - one man, his guitar and the odd noises he can make putting you off-guard in the meantime, Think I'm in Love is as quaint as it sounds, the piano adds value to the song, Strange Apparition is a soulful tune that could (and certainly deserves) to fit on any other album, and Nausea has decent guitar, I suppose. Most of the other songs are predominantly a three-star affair or less.

The other songs are unremarkable. The album doesn't have highs or lows other than such mentioned tracks, really. I can't say I dislike the music, but most of it fails to make an impression. I feel bad for saying this after a thirty-dollar purchase,'s my least favorite album of his. It's okay, I'll give it that, but there's no personality, no technical prowess, no exotic trumpets and samples that made me love Beck's music.

Being the sucker, I brought this album when it was new, ruined the cover with the stickers, peeled all the stickers off, got bored with the DVD, and only then listened to the music. The thought occurred to me, "Do these gimmicks only exist to bring my attention away from the less-than-standard music? Could Beck do better?"

The answer was - and i knew it in my heart - yes and yes.


Beck - Elevator Music

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