Late yesterday, the MTV Newsroom was all aflutter with excitement, and not just because Brangelina might have just had twins!!!
No, it was because Beck's much-anticipated new album, Modern Guilt (which we sorta totally hipped you about back in May), finally made its worldwide debut via — of course — the vast file-sharing nether-regions of the Internet. And while some of the younger members of the News Team (ahem, Rya) have already criticized the album based on a few listens to one track, there's a whole bunch of us who couldn't wait to hear what Beck and co-producer Danger Mouse had cooked up, because we love both of them (and because we're old enough to remember the halcyon days of 1994, when "Loser" blared on every boombox and there was a flannel-clad chicken in every pot).
So what's the verdict? Was Guilt worth the wait? You can find out below the jump.
Here's the short answer: It depends on just what kind of Beck you're into. For someone like me, who was weaned on the "goofball-leaf-blower-solos-and-scarecrow-pop-and-lock" era of Beck (typified by Mellow Gold, Stereopathetic Soulmanure and Odelay), it took a few listens to get into. Others, who probably broke up with someone around 2002 and therefore are really into somber Sea Change-era Beck, will love it right off the bat. Oh, and if you're a big fan of Gnarls Barkley, you'll probably be super into it. (Danger Mouse certainly has developed a signature style, hasn't he?)
The point is, you'll get into it, whether it takes one listen or 20, because the album is totally great.
But for an admitted Beck fanatic like me, what's most appealing about Guilt is that it's probably the first album he's done that succeeds at being all things to all Beck fans. He's been trying to pull off this feat for a few years now, with varying degrees of success, but here, he really makes it fly. There's a laid-back, tattered-armchair quality to a large portion of it — songs like "Orphans" and "Walls" — which recalls his early days (and is fitting, because it was recorded in his Silver Lake pad). There are really pretty moments — check the interplay of Beck's dreamy vocals and the chittering electronics on "Replica" — that are like Sea Change or even Mutations, moments of post-millennial social commentary ("Gamma Ray") like The Information. There’s some chugging guitar work that reminds me — in a bit of a stretch, I'll admit — of some stuff on Odelay or Midnite Vultures. And there's even a lyrical mention of a hollow log, which is a loving throwback to his great One Foot in the Grave album.
It's his most complete record in ages, and it makes sense for where he is as a person and an artist at this point in his career: It's somber and weary because, well, Beck's probably somber and weary (he's getting kinda old). It's intentionally hushed and lo-fi because he's always been at home working within those confines. It’s unpolished because, well, since when has Beck cared about being all shiny? (Also, this is probably the last album he'll make under contract with a label, so it works on a whole different level.) And, given its title, it's somehow fitting that we all got to hear Guilt in the most modern format: an illegal download.
It's almost like performance art: Beck's pulling the strings so subtly you might not even notice he's doing it. But watch closely: Watch the master at work ...