Late in 2006, Beck released The Information, to a generally positive critical reception. This describes rather adequately the level of excitement felt; it was not a great event in the music calendar.
Forgetting the content for the moment, the album itself was an exercise in creativity and marketing in the digital age. Physical media was in something of a slump and fears for the future of the compact disc were being expressed more than ever at the time. Beck wanted the overall package to be as important as its content, to add a little more permanence to its housing.
As it is, three different versions of the album have been released to date: the original version with its blank sleeve and decals so as to allow it to be customised, a CD/DVD double set - the DVD containing a cheap home-made video for each of the songs which, besides being used as a marketing tool on YouTube, one example - the song that landed us here - shown below, were intended to give a visual version of the record that may give an alternative take of it all and, a little later - to accompany "deluxe versions" of his earlier works - a 2CD+DVD set containing bonus tracks, a CD of remixes, a DVD of all the videos, including the official ones to accompany the singles - Nausea and Cellphone's Dead and all 4 sticker sets.
This is by no means the only example of its type, but it is one good example of how music can be sold as part of a greater product. As packaging becomes more and more dispensable, it is important that those artists who want to compile their works as albums follow these leads to produce works that are worth holding onto.
All of which talking and not a word as yet on the music. Is this a good thing or bad? I suppose if one were to open the package - accused of being gimmicky and thus denied eligibility into the UK Album Chart - and find that the quality of creativity stopped there, one would have a good argument for the decline of the CD. As it is, Beck, working again with Nigel Godrich, has again managed to retain his identity yet transform his sound - though some, Pitchfork Media included, feel that there is not enough of a departure or that he is treading instead too familiar territory.
There is a definite hip-hop influence to the record - which has carried throughout his collected oeuvre, though usually more obliquely. This record, unlike those prior releases, is far heavier on the electronics and samples which, somewhat unfortunately, serve to make it blend with the overall zeitgeist rather than lift it above those works by other artists released at the time who were doing so much to blend the two until-then disparate worlds of indie and rave culture. Comparatively, Beck's work doesn't leap from this far-reaching net and, as much as the album works in and of itself, it is notable just how uncool it all feels - mixing what sounds more a blend of adult contemporary rock and urban styles with rather less success.
You can dance to this album, but I don't remember hearing it in the indie clubs at the time. I can only guess that when you dance to this one you really do dance alone.
The video may not play - if not, you can find it easily enough on YouTube.
Buy The Information: Amazon UK | US