A massive record that would take much more effort to digest than a timely review can allow, The Information was started after Sea Change with that record's producer, Nigel Godrich, only to be put on hold for last year's Dust Brothers collaboration, Guero. That record's strong pop melodies kept it from being a disappointment, because the production and performance techniques that made Odelay a classic had lost their impact in the ensuing ten years. With The Information, Beck ignores the lessons of that outing, instead producing a much more mature record that has none of the immediacy of either Dust Brothers collaboration.
If the album has a saving grace, it's that it very much seems like a conscious attempt at a step forward for Beck. Unlike his work on Guero, he doesn't turn his back on his evolution post-Odelay, and a great deal of The Information references Mutations ("We Dance Alone") and Sea Change ("Dark Star"). Though that doesn't necessarily translate into successful songs every time, Beck has never been less than interesting. The Information is no different, even when "1000BPM" seems to violate our brains or "Soldier Jane" dares to put us to sleep. These songs, like the album's thirteen others, demand reconstruction that can only come from multiple listens. Unfortunately, the initial impact of the record is so muted that only an artist as challenging and road-tested as Beck warrants such effort.
Unlike Guero, The Information does seem very personal to Beck. While that bodes well for his future work, it's hard to see where we win here. Admittedly, "Where It's At" was never much more than a party song, but does the world need "Nausea?" Eventually, artists come to the point in their career where it's impossible to truly reinvent themselves (at least while maintaining a winning streak). Eminem hit the wall with Encore, we saw OutKast's demise mere weeks ago, and Bjork constantly teeters on the edge (she may never fall, knock on wood). Beck clearly hit an artistic dead-end post-Sea Change. Now that he's treaded water for two records, the best we can hope for is that he's paying attention.
Artist (audio/video): http://www.beck.com/