Guilty As Charged
Many acts only release one or two stellar albums throughout their career, forever coasting on a brief string of hits. Yet over 15 jam-packed years Beck has consistently delivered challenging, exciting albums gracefully and repeatedly reinventing himself. So he can be forgiven for making Modern Guilt, a remarkably boring album lacking any of the vibrant, whimsy that is Beck’s calling card.Gamma Ray, for instance, relies heavily on 4/4 guitar plucks and only employs sonic color in the form of slight ambient flourishes and the occasional backing vocal sigh. “Youthless” and the title track fall into the same trap, simple plucked progressions anchoring each tune. Sans melody, spirit or even a fully formed tune, these all feel like mere skeletons compared to the rest of Beck’s catalog.
Beck also continues his penchant for quieter musings. “Chemtrails” is an ethereal snore-fest with a soft vocal too serious in tone to be compelling and half-heartedly delivered, with the words “So many people / where do they go?” making it hard to take seriously. Worse yet, “Walls” feels immediately forgettable, a short verse set to beats and brief to the point of pointlessness.
Stranger still, Modern Guilt is Beck’s first outing with red-hot producer Danger Mouse after years of exclusive collaboration with The Dust Brothers and Nigel Godrich. Danger Mouse’s productions as of late have been top-notch (Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys), but strangely his usually deft touch goes almost completely unnoticed here. This is, at best, a rock album rushed to serve a stripped-down concert production. If you’re a new fan, nearly any of Beck’s other albums are a better choiceâ€šÃ„Ã®Odelay, Midnight Vultures, Guero, Sea Change, even the slowest song on Mutations is far more engaging than the bland drivel found here.