Anyone expecting last year’s back-to-basics party track ‘Timebomb’ to be a precursor to Beck’s 10th studio album might be shocked to hear nothing like it on ‘Modern Guilt’. And if they are, they still haven’t learned the basic truism of Beck: if there’s one thing that gives his work linear structure it’s nothing at all.
‘Modern Guilt’ isn’t manic Beck, it’s Beck in the age of the understatement, recorded over 10 intense weeks with Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse). You’ve already heard ‘Chemtrails’, the Air-y odyssey that conjures mirages of oft-mocked prog-rockers Camel and disappears into a freaked-out ‘Paranoid Android’ finale, but there’s a galaxy more to discover. ‘Gamma Ray’ dances to its own tinny beat like something from that other great curator of twisted Americana Mark ‘E’ Everett and ‘Walls’ has the bittersweet dichotomy of maudlin melody and perky rhythm so characteristic of Burton’s day job.
The only real gripe here is numbers: at 35 minutes and with most tracks not even lasting for three it’s an album of Beck-tease amuse bouches; even semi-epic closer ‘Volcano’ ends as if Beck was yoinked out of the studio by Danger Mouse to make way for the next Penfold. Essential nonetheless.