While I don’t think every album Beck has made is consistently great, I have always applauded him for the great songs he writes, and his love of working with innovative producers to give each album such a unique fit and finish. Odelay was probably his most consistently enjoyable album: though it encompassed a wide variety of styles and song structures, the delightful cut-n-paste samples from The Dust Brothers gave everything a slightly cronky, slightly wonky, very much alluring feel. 2005’s Guero was, in part, a return to that style – after all, Beck was working with the Dust Brothers once again – but, for me, most of the second half of the album melded into one homogenous lump, leaving the album sounding very front-loaded. While Earthquake Weather and Missing were two of my favourite, and most inventive, songs of that year, tracks like Scarecrow and Go It Alone were fairly anonymous.
All these years of waiting for the next consistently great Beck album have made me very excited about his forthcoming album, entitled Modern Guilt. Not only does it see him beginning a new contractual agreement with XL Recordings (who are no strangers to reinvigorating artists), but it also sees him teaming up with producer-superhero Danger Mouse, who has been in a most industrious temper this year, manning the production desks for albums by The Black Keys, Martina Topley Bird, and The Shortwave Set, in addition to finding time to release his own Gnarls Barkley sophomore album, The Odd Couple. He’s a cracking producer, often using vintage synths and keyboards to give tracks a retro soul feel, or just weaving his magic sparkle dust over good songs, to transform them into great ones.
The first track to be aired from Modern Guilt is called Chemtrails (it’s in the box.net widget on the right-hand side, once again), and it’s just over four minutes of swirling psychedelia and mysticism, complete with gurgling and whirring synths, plinky pianos, and cavernous drums. It doesn’t sound like much else from Beck, but it does sound brilliant. The vocals are equally doused in a mist of reverb, making them difficult to decipher, but Beck sounds like he’s in his starry-eyed observer mode, which is definitely an interesting change from the cutting sarcasm evident on his recent albums.
I must say, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, and, if this represents only a part of the reinvention of Beck’s sound, I’m predicting that the rest of the album could be stunning.