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Reviewed by Jim Washington
Oddly enough, that’s not really a bad thing.
Modern Guilt, Beck’s not-at-all-ironically-titled 11th album, starts with these words: “Think I’m stranded but I don’t know where / I got this diamond that I don‘t know how to shine.” And it doesn’t get much cheerier from there, as he airs concerns from the environmental (“With these icecaps melting down / And my Chevrolet Terraplane going round and round”) to the existential (“Watching a sea full of people try not to drown” and “There‘s a bottomless pit that we‘ve been climbing from.”) Wheeee!
Thankfully super-producer Danger Mouse is along for the pity party, and makes it actually sound like fun – or at least a lot like Gnarls Barkley. That means plenty of echoey, double-time beats, such as on “Gamma Ray,” an eco-nightmare that sounds like the soundtrack to a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movie set on Mars. That is a compliment, by the way. The title track borrows a dark sense of foreboding and a riff from “People Are Strange,” and piles on the discomfort with lines like “I feel uptight when I walk in the city / I feel so cold when I’m at home / Feels like everything’s starting to hit me / I lost my bearings ten minutes ago.”
“Soul of a Man” stands out by borrowing some of the gutbucket white-boy blues moves of those other Danger Mouse collaborators the Black Keys. While Danger Mouse definitely has a sonic signature, Modern Guilt sounds like a true partnership. Beck’s words, elliptical though they may be, meld well with DM’s spacey beats and soundscapes. Both artists are probably still judged on their early work, although most of their work is lot darker than it’s given credit for.
Modern Guilt is certainly not the free-for-all that you might expect from the guy behind The Grey Album hooking up with the guy who did “Loser,” but it’s a solid, concise and mature piece of work. So Beck, cheer up, dude. But not too much.