Modern Guilt (Interscope)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., July 18, 2008
BeckModern Guilt (DGC Records)
"I think I'm stranded, but I don't know where," confides Beck in his familiar skittering lilt on "Orphans," opening his 10th album with a reflexive anxiety that only deepens with each track. Following the aimless, regressive spin of 2005's Guero and 2006's The Information back to Beck's 1990s pastiche pose, Modern Guilt finally finds a substantive balance between the elusive L.A. slacker's classic ADD rhythms and the somber poignancy of 2002's Sea Change. Danger Mouse's co-production steadies Beck's eccentricities without quelling them, though too often burying the vocals in the mix. Flourishes of DM's 1960s pop infatuation meld well with Beck's equally restless mash-up aesthetic, adding a touch of soul to "Orphans" and shooting the garage guitar licks of "Gamma Ray" through with an almost "Hey Ya!" beat. Despite the consistent dance-floor pulses, Beck's vision remains dire, if not downright apocalyptic, drifting through stream-of-consciousness images of war, global warming, identity crisis, and spiritual angst in tracing the album title's roots. "Chemtrails" floats in the Flaming Lips' spacey psychedelic glow, especially behind the massive drum bursts, and "Walls" grooves jaggedly like TV on the Radio. The ragged, rumbling blues of "Soul of a Man" courses the darkest, though the moaning disillusion of the title track cuts against its Zombies-like bounce, and the distorted rattle of "Replica" with its marimba and piano lines ring the most unsettling dichotomies. "Volcano" closes on a slightly more optimistic note, but at just more than 33 minutes, Modern Guilt is compacted for impact and delivers.