3 out of 5 stars
It seems that every time Beck puts out an album it is greeted with critical acclaim and adoration (unless of course you’re Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, a longtime nemesis of Beck’s). Beck falls in the category of ‘artist who can do no wrong’ and that can sometimes be a bad thing.
I am going against the grain and not going to give Beck a hand job this time around. I am going to tell it like it is: This is a lazy, mix-bagged of an album that clocks in at just over 30 minutes in total length. Yes, there are some good tracks here, but overall, the album is arguably his weakest and shortest effort yet.
Modern Guilt is Beck’s eighth studio album and last for Interscope Records (this album fulfills his recording contract). And it kind of sounds like that one last album you’d hand in to the record company if you knew it was going to be your last for them. You know, as if you knew you already had an A+ in a history class at semester’s end and you said “screw it” to the last term paper? Kind of like that.
On paper, this album should have been a stellar effort — one of the better albums of the summer. Beck tapped Danger Mouse (Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley) to co-produce the album with him and recruited Cat Power to collaborate on two tracks, the album-opener “Orphans,” and “Walls.”
Sounds great, right? Wrong. The outcome is one really good track (“Youthless”), three that are pretty good (“Orphans,” “Gamma Ray” and “Chemtrails”), and six that aren’t even worth mentioning in print.
Let’s focus on the good for a moment. “Youthless” is simply a pimp of a song and finds Beck at his best. It is the type of song that would make someone want to blow a massive rail and then drive really fast in the slow lane. It has a staccato double-tracked electric guitar as its foundation with simple electronic percussion noises laying the addictive groove. Over the top, Beck sings in his tenor voice: “There’s a million horses dragging down a monolith / With these trademarks so bereaved / Tied my leg to a barricade with a plastic hand grenade / They tried to turn emotion into noise.” “Youthless” is classic Beck and the song makes you wish there were more on the album in a similar vein.
It is going to be interesting to see what path Beck takes now that his obligation to major label Interscope is finished. Let’s just hope he gets back to making solid albums once again. On the album’s last track, “Volcano,” Beck sings, “‘Don’t know what I’ve done, but I feel ashamed.” That line pretty much sums up Modern Guilt.
— Jonathan Keller