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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

(Soundbite of song)

BRAND: The musician Beck has been a hip-hop joker, a sonic innovator, and a regular pop star. Beck's latest album, The Information, finds him in all these guises, and more. According to Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone magazine, this album may become a classic.

(Soundbite of song "Cellphone's Dead")

Mr. CHRISTIAN HOARD (Rolling Stone Magazine): That's Cellphone's Dead, the lead single from Beck's new album, The Information.

(Soundbite of song "Cellphone's Dead")

Mr. HOARD: It's a wobbly electro-dubfest that sounds like it could have been transmitted from a remote desert...

(Soundbite of song "Cellphone's Dead")

BECK (Musician): (Singing) Strange ways coming today. I put a dollar in my pocket and I threw it away. Been a long time since a federal dime made a jukebox sound like a mirror in my mind. Control my worries, fix my thoughts, throw my hopes...

Mr. HOARD: If it sounds like an odd choice to introduce Top 40 listeners to his tenth LP, well, remember that Beck's always been able to create masterworks out of elements that could easily have sounded like crap; stoned white-boy funk in particular.

(Soundbite of song "Elevator Music")

BECK: (Singing) All right...

Mr. HOARD: The Information is Beck's weirdest album yet, all tricky rhyme schemes, narcotic funk, sun-baked melodies, electronic blurps and strange ear candy. But it's also the psychedelic rock record of the year, and an album that could prove a favorite for years to come for both collegiate stoners and, well, anyone else.

(Soundbite of song "Elevator Music")

BECK: (Singing) I'm uptight, super-gutted, out of the frame. I shake my leg on the ground like an epileptic battery man. I'm making my move, lettin' loose like a belt. Little worse for wear, but I'm wearing it well. Tell me what's wrong with a little grind n' bump?

Mr. HOARD: Elevator Music is one of the hookiest cuts on The Information, but it's also slightly retrograde in its big dumb funk and junkyard rap shtick. From there, Beck tosses out far more coherent lyrics and manages to make you feel relatively traditional post-modern thoughts about a modern world where mountains of data have replaced genuine human interaction.

Granted, Beck's been tackling similar issues for years. The difference here is that his lyrics are far more smartly introspective than ever. Take, for example, the Kraftwerk-meets-disco-meets-um-Duran-Duran hookiness of We Dance, the serrated, tape-looping, washing-machine tumble of the genius 1000 BPM, or the sun-baked, uneasy affection of this song, Think I'm in Love.

(Soundbite of song "Think I'm in Love")

BECK: (Singing) I really think I better get a hold of myself. Don't wanna let the night get ahead of myself. Whisperin' her love through a smoke ring smile. She doesn't know what happens when she's around.

I think I'm in love, but it makes me kinda nervous to say so. I think I'm in love, but it makes me kinda nervous to say so.

Mr. HOARD: So how exactly does Beck pull this off? For one thing, he's got Nigel Godrich, who worked with Beck on Mutations, a folkier album from 1998. As the producer behind Radiohead's OK Computer, Godrich knows how to keep disparate, experimental sounds coherent. With his help, everything on The Information just works.

Every song has a memorable if subtle melody or arresting rhymes that are more schooled and skilled than any in Beck's career. More importantly, every song goes somewhere. So when Beck actually bears down and tosses out a big, show-stopping chorus on this song, the perfectly titled Strange Apparition, it sounds like the culmination of lots of great little moments, and one to grow on.

(Soundbite of song "Strange Apparition")

BECK: (Singing) Lord, please don't forsake me in my Mercedes Benz.

BRAND: Beck's new album is called The Information. Our reviewer, Christian Hoard, is a contributor to Rolling Stone Magazine.

NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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