Ten years ago Beck could do no wrong, moving effortlessly from one genre to the next, whether it be his sexual-funk fest “Midnight Vultures” or his somber, sad symphony on “Sea Change”. The latter part of the decade he had a few bumps in the road with “Guero” and “The Information” (SongSucks has always asserted that if you take half the songs off both albums and combined them, you’d have another Beck masterpiece). I think the only real problem with these two albums was a lack of focus. After exploring every nook and cranny of pop music, Beck seemed to be jumping around from sound to sound without any real guidance.
In need of a reset button, Beck turned to Danger Mouse for counsel, letting the Dark Lord of Production pull the heart out of Beck’s music, leaving the same monotonous, jerky stylings that have plagued anything that the Dark Lord touches. Although the album somehow got nominated for a Grammy (since when have Grammys mattered?), the album didn’t get as favorable of a reception from critics. PopMatters wrote:
“Whereas his preceding body of work surprised, soothed and flowed with resounding consistency, his latest unassertively lingers in redundancy…Part of the problem is that Danger Mouse’s strategy—his signature go-go rhythm (oom pah pa oom pa) over a simple but prominent bass line—is beaten to a pulp in its overuse here, and in pop generally.”
You mean to say Danger Mouse is a one trick pony? How dare they! The Guardian was not very friendly either:
“So richly scented is producer Danger Mouse’s take on late 1960s/early 70s psychedelic rock – a genre done to death, if not beyond – that you begin to wonder if Beck is flagging up the end of music itself…perhaps this is a good time to say goodbye.”
Good bye to Beck? How can we let go of this quirky genius so easily? There is still hope, isn’t there? Or did Danger Mouse ruin him for good? Well, I think Beck took the hint. After a couple of years in hiding, Beck realized he couldn’t return re-hashing what he’d done before. He had to re-invent himself. And that’s exactly what he did.
Like the smoke monster in “Lost”, Beck had to find himself a dead John Locke, a vehicle to move his music forward, another voice to convey his art, a new point of view: he had to become a woman. French songstress Charlotte Gainsbourg to be exact. She seemed the perfect choice; afterall, Beck basically plagiarized his “Sea Change” sound from Charlotte’s dad, Serge Gainsbourg (believe me, I love “Sea Change”, but try listening to it right after Serge’s ode to pedophilia “Histoire de Melody Nelson” and you can’t deny the influence).
The premise of “IRM” is Charlotte singing Beck’s songs and it works incredibly well. Beck is free from the constraints of what his fans may expect of him and is allowed to experiment in new, refreshing ways. Unlike “Modern Guilt’s” stale drum tracks, Beck returns to the world of live percussion, embellishing his music with massive, building drum fills that rumble with attitude. The acoustic guitars natural reverberations return to the forefront, giving the album that raw, natural echo that got completely sucked out by that vacuum of chaos, Danger Mouse. On songs like “Me and Jane Doe”, this organic approach works beautifully alongside Beck’s sparing use of production, using only a dash of his ghostly voice oohing-and-ahhing in the back-drop.
This is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s just so happy and the lyrics are solid:
Beck doesn’t completely re-invent himself here. The Serge Gainsbourg orchestration returns to Beck’s repertoire, giving songs like “Vanaties” and “Voyage” a dramatic effect. Instead of creating an album that jumps from one genre to the next, Beck realizes he can combine all that he’s learned over the years, melding “Sea Changes” with “Mutations”, “Odelay”, and “Mellow Gold” in one fell swoop. The most Serge-ian track though would have to be the darkly haunting “Le Chat Du Cafe Des Artistes”, a song entirely sung in French. When translated, the lyrics are disturbing and, in a strange way, romantic:
Put me in a trashcan
Let me rot for a month
And from there throw me to the cat
May he decline my spleen and my liver
But choose the right time so that he eats my heart
Okay, my idea of romance may be a little misguided. Regardless, check out this incredible song:
This album’s success is a result of Gainsbourg’s voice, providing a focus that Beck had lost and giving him a chance to have fun again. Only on the Mutations-esque sounding “Heaven Can Wait” does Beck step out of the shadows, providing back-up vocals to the upbeat melody. It is the most fitting choice for Beck’s reincarnation with lyrics that re-assure us that there is life after Danger Mouse:
Heaven can wait
and hell’s too far ago
what you need and what you know