With his tenth album, Beck Hansen presents us with quite the situation. We have mainly three groups of Beck fans. There are those who like him best as a “Loser” and go for his quirky, outlandish, funky songs circa Odelay and Midnite Vultures, there are the people who like the more solemn stuff like Mutations or Sea Change, and then there are those who like it all. With Modern Guilt, he has definitely veered closer towards the solemn. It may be because I fall into the Sea Change category, but Guilt is Beck’s best album since. It is cohesive and has flow, something Beck has needed for some time. ThoughThe Information andGeuro had a slight sense of structure and stylistic cohesiveness, both seemed rather scattered and schizophrenic.
Modern Guilt is the first Beck album in over half a decade that actually feels like, well, an ALBUM. It is spacious, mostly thanks to Dangermouse’s ghostly production, who at times comes across as a more hip-hop inclined Nigel Godrich. Together, Beck and Dangermous have created a retro minimal 60’s psychedelic rock record. The smoothness of the record is due to both its finely tuned production as well as the songs’ subject matters. The images are all relatively related, as the title suggests, dealing with the trials and tribulations of the modern world and the paranoia it can create, as well as the beauty that lies therein. “Chemtrails,” for instance, a beautiful fuzzy daze, depicts the narrator and his assumed lover watching a plane’s exhaust, and questioning how something so detrimental can look so gorgeous. There are images of modern technology scattered throughout as well as present political issues like global warming (“with these ice caps melting down”). The main issue here is a guy leaving neverland, and coming to terms with it. As youthful as he will always remain, Beck has grown up in a world that has changed as dramatically as he has, and Mr. Hansen is commenting on the anxiety of maturing in that mixed up place, perhaps what “Youthless” addresses. Throughout the record, Beck covers cloning (“Replica”), the obsoleteness of religion (“Profanity Prayers”), and the stress of city life (“Modern Guilt). In some ways it revisits the issues of OK Computer with a bit of sarcasm and the quirkiness that made Beck a household name. The songs are pretty straightforward, but it is Beck’s delivery and lyrical stylings that do not make them sound contrived or make him sound like he is whining or complaining. He is simply commenting, but in that commentary lies a great deal of darkness and frustration.
It’s certainly no Sea Change, but in some ways it feels like a literal one. After a seemingly long period of rough spots, he has finally made an album to like and if he continues with this current path, by his next album he may have another masterpiece. Modern Guilt is a fine collection of songs and in just over thirty minutes it is short and sweet.