Coming just 18 months after his last album, Guero, and produced by Nigel Godrich, you’d think you’d know what to expect from The Information – that is, if anyone could accurately and confidently predict what an artist as famously eccentric as Beck Hansen was going to do next.
Godrich, the man most famous for his work with Radiohead of course, was the producer behind the stripped-down acoustic sound of Mutations and Seachange, but this doesn’t complete the trilogy. Instead, this is a return to the experimental, funky hip-hop that made Beck’s name, with Godrich adding his customary bleeps and eerie atmospherics throughout.
At 17 tracks and over an hour long, The Information has the potential to be a sprawling mess of an album. Indeed, at times it is, but it also contains some of the best songs of Hansen’s career. These songs are wrapped in the kind of sonic invention that we’ve come to expect from Beck – at times during Cell Phone’s Dead for example, your head starts to spin at the sheer amount of varied sounds he manages to slip in, including jerky, stabbing keyboards, infectious percussion and an irresistible hook of “one by one, I’ll knock you out”.
Although Beck’s the last person you could accuse of being ‘poppy’, The Information contains some of his most commercial songs yet – Think I’m In Love is Beck at his most conventional, with a lovely summery vibe and a sweet, easily identifiable chorus of “I think I’m in love but it makes me kinda nervous to say so”.
The primal, slightly demented sound of Nausea is another highlight, as is the delicate, Hot Chip-reminiscent funk of We Dance Alone. And even as we had him tagged as some kind of ultra-futuristic genius, he produces Strange Appiration, which brings to mind acts such as mid-period Rolling Stones or acoustic-era Led Zeppelin.
The main drawback with Beck’s albums are that there’s just so much crammed into them. Although The Information is his most focused work, Beck’s unique rapping can grate on the nerves after a while, especially when Sea Change proved that he can be a devastatingly effective vocalist when he wants to be. Soldier Jane is a bit of a weak spot when compared to the other excellent opening tracks while 1000 BPM, as the title suggests, goes a bit too heavy on the percussion and forgets to add a tune.
There are other moments where Beck’s ambitions overstretch themselves – The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton is a 10 minute dub workout that’s undeniably intriguing but by the time you get to a long, rambling conversation between film director Spike Jonze and novelist Dave Eggars about spaceships, your finger is itching over that ‘skip’ button.
Yet this is Beck Hansen, and we can forgive him his self-indulgences, as his failures are usually 100% more interesting than most. He even seems to be standing up for the humble CD with this release – there’s a DVD included with specially made videos for each track, and even a collection of stickers allowing the listener to create their own album cover (a move which, bizarrely, disqualifies it from charting).
Fun, fresh and (mainly) utterly listenable, The Information is the most diverse and, at times, thrilling album you’ll hear all year, and although that word ‘genius’ is horrifically overused these days, it’s more than appropriate to be applied to Beck.