The Information

At the heart of all the weirdness that comprises Beck is something stranger: his blankness. Sweet Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips — who briefly acted as Beck's backing and opening band during the singer's initial Sea Change trek — has bitched about his touring partner's detachment. And during his recent tour, Beck zoned out while his band and their puppet counterparts put on a far more animated performance. Even the new DVD that accompanies this album only fleetingly reveals recognizable emotions amid its blatantly improvised music videos for each of the CD's sixteen tracks.

Started before Guero but finished this year, The Information combats Beck's tendency to absent himself with more forceful hooks. On back-to-back high points "Cellphone's Dead" and "Strange Apparition," producer Nigel Godrich (Sea Change/Kid A) creates dancefloor psychedelia that seems to sample Beck's own band to greater effect than the Dust Brothers' previous batch of vinyl-originated bits. Beck's rapping adds little to the four and a half tracks on which it appears, but the surrounding musicianship, arrangements, and sonics are so consistently compelling that there's plenty to savor even as he drifts during the album's largely sedate second half. Information ultimately suffers from the same hollowness that weakened Guero, but it's bolder at its best and less derivative of previous victories. Beck's still a frustratingly blank slate, but at least he's having more fun now.

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