In 2002, with the release of the saturnine breakup CD Sea Change, Beck went from cuddly weirdo to bona-fide grownup. The disc was a jolt for critics and fans alike, but in retrospect, a deeply melancholy Beck made a lot of sense. After a decade of mashing up a half-dozen genres into smart, best-selling pop tunes, any thinking person would likely wonder: Is that all there is?
The relentlessly fun Guero suggested that this deeper, gray-toned Beck was a one-time deal. Thankfully, his new offering, the woozy, often dub-inspired The Information (Interscope), demonstrates that's not the case. Yes, it's packed with his trademark recombinant grooves and cut-up white-boy rhyming, but most tracks have a wistfulness about them. Even the lead cut, the rolling, rhyme-heavy 'Elevator Music,' seems less a play for indie-rock-friendly dance clubs than an attempt to burrow into the brooding essence of the throbbing bass line that propels it. This is Beck the inscrutable, Beck the man of mysteries. The old funk geek of Odelay is nowhere to be found.
The sonic and linguistic manipulations on the rest of the album range from the anxious, synth-rock-derived choruses of 'Think I'm in Love' to the wan Miles Davis-style fusion of 'We Dance Alone' (a theme for a soul-sucking Hollywood night if there ever was one). Nothing's ever irredeemably bleak, but you do wonder at times if Beck's having as much fun as his astonishingly creative producer, Nigel Godrich. He doesn't sound depressed exactly, but he's often oddly detached. And when he sighs 'We are aimless/And the target is an empty wall' at the onset of the comparatively poppy 'No Complaints,' the emotional abyss he nearly toppled into on Sea Change once again seems perilously close at hand.