When reviewing a Beck record I think you come across some very difficult waters. The man is revered by so many, and at the same time, it’s become increasingly difficult to put a definition on his music. You have to respect that, yet at the same time, it’s not the easiest thing to write about.
With this album, you have the uber-producer Danger Mouse aiding the production along the way. It’s kind of an odd step, and one that I was skeptical of – I’m not a DM kind of guy. That’s where we begin.
The album opens well enough with “Orphans.” You have some of the staple touches of DM, accompanied by the gentle guitar work of Beck, for which he always wins me over. He throws in some hand-claps as well, which I believe is becoming a bit of a Beck staple. It’s a good start.
“Gamma Ray” is the next track, and its the track you expected to hear on this album. It’s got a bouncing little bass line that pushes the song all the way through. Sure, you have vocals and such, but if you can’t get into this bass line, then you can’t get into this song. This is definitely a high-point on the album.
“Chemtrails” seems like an odd song to follow the previous track. It’s mellow atmospherics leave it completely juxtaposed to “Gamma Ray,” which is probably the intention. Stay with this song because it picks up in the end, with Beck or Danger Mouse, doing his best Stereolab/Air imitation.
The album’s title track comes next. Once again, this is a head bobber. You can’t help but realize that your feet are tapping, while Beck’s familiar voice dances on in the background. Honestly, I’m starting to realize that his voice is playing second fiddle on some of these more upbeat songs, which is kind of disappointing.
I didn’t get much from “Youthless.” You can blame me for poor tastes I guess. Perhaps because it comes off to me like Beck vs. Gnarls Barkley.
I love the next track, or I love the vocals on this next track, “Walls.” The beats present in the background don’t do much to enhance this song. Beck has that passion in his voice here, but it’s the kind of passion that makes you wish he would just pick up his guitar and sing it to you straight.
Then you can skip the next track. I did.
We find ourselves at “Soul of a Man.” This is a solid track, and another of the upbeat numbers you will find, even if the guitar sound does come off like every other garage rock tune you’ve heard in the past years. But, the pace is stepped back up on the album, which is probably where the focus of this album should stay, which it does. “Profanity Prayers” continues the pace, with pounding drums in your ears. One of the better songs on the album. To me this album just screams good times. This should definitely be included in the live set; it just has that feel to it.
Then we close the album with “Volcano.” A down-trodden little number where the acoustic guitar work really makes me reminisce about Sea Changes. It’s a good call to close the album here. For me, its the song that most resembles the Beck I came to know and like. Nice call here.
As I play this time and time again, I can’t help but feel a little distance from it. I don’t find Danger Mouse’s work very interesting, in fact, I think it kind of comes off like everything else he’s done recently. Perhaps he’s just tapped into the same thing one too many times. Due to that, it just doesn’t have the feel of a solid Beck album. Sure, there are some high points, like “Gamma Ray” and “Volcano,” but there are some moments that just don’t reach the listener.
I guess at the end of the day, he can do whatever he really wants to do. He’s earned that right, and as long as he keeps releasing albums with several great songs, I think he’ll still be important. I’m just waiting for him to put out that solid album, all the way through. I’ll keep waiting.
Below is “Gamma Ray” off the new album: