The deluxe editions of both albums, stuffed to the seams with bonus cuts, the Guerolito remix album and custom artwork gimmick of The Information felt like smoke and mirrors, perhaps the sign of an artist lacking confidence in his songs. The presentation of his latest, Modern Guilt, is much more focused and assured, with a running time of just over thirty minutes, simple artwork and lyrics right there in black and white for the first time since Sea Change.
However, Beck’s lyrics are still filled with paranoia and anxiety. The first lyric of opener ‘Orphans’ is “think I’m stranded but I don’t know where / got this diamond that don’t know how to shine”, suggesting that Beck’s self-belief is flailing. Album closer ‘Volcano’ reinforces the perspective of a man psychologically at odds with the world with lines like “I don’t know if I’m sane” and “I’m tired of people who only want to be pleased”. It’s hard see a reference to the mixed reception to his recent output in these lines.
The collaboration with Danger Mouse has been incredibly fruitful: the album works as a coherent whole thanks to a consistency of tone and atmosphere and there’s a great deal of warmth in its analogue-dominated sound, which often recalls 1960s British Invasion and psych-folk. It’s a rewarding sound that can be peeled away with repeated listens.
Modern Guilt Promo
One of the albums musical triumphs is ‘Walls’, which opens with a an off-kilter breakbeat conflicting with strings, heightening the lyrical tension. ‘Replica’ and ‘Chemtrails’ see Beck step back into the mix, becoming as much an instrument as a vocalist, while ‘Gamma Ray’ and fuzzed-out rocker ‘Profanity Prayers’ show that Beck is still a master of catchy pop. Like Odelay and Sea Change, its feels like a true collaboration between Beck and a producer, with a strong identity of its own.
Those expecting Beck to do a complete, stylistic U-turn may well be disappointed with ‘Modern Guilt’, but for me it only reinforces his genius.