Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Review: Beck's Modern Guilt - Not As Good As They Say

I had intended to deliver this album to you Dead on Arrival.
Here's what changed... and why I'm still not fawning over it

Beck's latest album could be my least favorite of the last decade....
But I don't hate it anymore, which I did up until last weekend.

Before I go very far, I hope this isn't your first read of the RSL. We don't do negative pieces for the most part. We get hundreds of albums each year for review. And rather than to spend time ripping apart bad projects my feeling is that the readers will be better served by us indicating a truly great band that no one is writing about and desperately needs the exposure. So no slash and burn pieces. It costs me the prurient readership and in it's place a decent-sized, more appreciative and enlightened indie reader base. Suits us fine.

Then Beck, who I respect very much, had to go and put out this album. You see, I'm compelled to review Beck's work. He's important to music - a polarizing force (whether you realize it or not) and he has been for some time. Plus, I feel personal connection. In my little group of friends, years ago - I discovered Beck and played the shit out of those old albums harder than anyone I knew. And, Beck connected to the evolving artist and the shifting sounds of his career - the man kept it vibrant and fresh.... Until now.

The Addition of a World-Class Producer: Expectations for this one were SUPER HIGH based on the noted addition of super producer Danger Mouse (2008 King Maker for his work on The Black Keys' sensational Attack & Release - currently ranked Record of the Year.) I think I reasonably expected to like this one as much as Guero. Boy, was I setting myself up for a fall....

It Could Be Worse: I think this is where I reassure you how much I really don't hate this album now. Not at this point - and I don't... but I did just a week ago.

I would say my thermometer is reading Average to Decent now. Very middle of the road... Disappointing for Beck and for Danger Mouse... But better than most new material released today under major hype, sadly. Most of Beck's records - top songs that lead into even better ones - a few profound moments. I listened intently, waiting for something brilliant to occur. It Never Did.

Rolling Stone magazine gave Modern Guilt a 4-Star Review. What the hell were you listening to Melissa Maerz? A professional writer, Maerz repeatedly uses superlatives painting a picture for this modern Emperor has No Clothes album... "... feels like the perfect....", "seems custom-made.....", "... the funkiest"...." (vomit.)

Some of the songs had decent lyrics but you had to wade through disassembled, narcissistic drone (cool when it works, noise when it doesn't) and symptoms of the artist's mid-life crisis. I will let the writer Maerz choke on her own words; "Taken as a whole, the album's first five songs stand among Beck's strongest work." - Lady please... Even if you were deeply moved by Modern Guilt, lay off the Corporate Tool schtick....

You are free to love music as you please but there is no way that the first five songs of this record can touch the stuff Beck released in the six years prior to 2005. Absolutely impossible. The comparison should never have been made.

FOUR STARS? So, Modern Guilt has the Rolling Stone writer absolutely beside herself and I, as a rabid Beck fan, was feeling seriously left out wondering if I even like four songs on the record. (Actually at that time, I liked only emblematic "Gamma Ray" with its goofy surf a-go-go beat. I suspect the general let down on the record colored/poisoned some of the later tracks.) I ended up really diggin, "Profanity Prayers" too. It's got the beat and has more of a stolid sophistication than its predecessors from previous albums.

"Profanity Prayers"
from Modern Guilt

This is a good one, but at this point, you're 90% through a 10-track album you paid $14 dollars for. It's not enough to save the project. Certainly not a four-star album.

I am Beck's Adoring Public and I will be the first to say, "We were slighted." I sit there listening to Modern Guilt (again, not a horrible album, just a completely average ten track record with a couple of decent songs) and question my loyalty to the artist. "Is there something wrong with me? I'm supposed to like this!...."

But you see, music is supposed to reach out to you - not the other way around. Sometimes the people need to say, "Nay" and the Emperor has No Clothes.

There, it needed to be said.

RSL Album Report Card: 2.75 Stars (5 Stars)


March to the Sea said...

i have not warmed up to this record either...

Isaac Ashe said...

I totally agree with you, this album is so underwhelming. You say you, hated it a week ago, now it's mediocre - I guarantee if you stop spinning it two weeks later it'll be erased from the memorybanks altogether - yet I bet you could hum Odelay! from start to finish right now if you wanted. Very disappointing.

Anonymous said...

You said it, thank you. Beck can do so much better than this, and I hope he does again soon.

davide said...

sorry, I don't agree!neither with you and rolling stone
i think the best part of the album is the second part, and the best song is "volcano".
surely the first five song are good song, but "walls", "soul of a man", ect... are superbest song.
anyway my rating is 4,5/5.
if we speak about albums (so 10-12 song) i think it's the best album since sea change, surely better than guero, who owns 3 great singles and 10 average songs.

Anonymous said...

I love it , I think is the best album I heard from beck , is like the begining of him.

full originality

Ralph said...

Sorry don't agree with you at all. I am Beck fan since his mellow gold. And I love this album.

Took a wee while but it just got into my head and took over. It is just more evidence of how brilliant Beck is.