Album: Beck, Modern Guilt (XL)

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The Independent Culture

Bashed out, by his standards, in ten weeks, this is Beck's most satisfying album since Sea Change (2002).

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Co-producer Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, shares a taste for psychedelia, and subtly shores up Beck's pop instincts, unerring in his Odelay pomp, but tired and lazy lately.

Burton also repeats his Gnarls Barkley trick of musically sugaring a singer's nightmarish songs. "Chemtrails" is the first hint something's up, as Beck's high, withdrawn voice hovers over Jason Falkner's swirling guitar, and contemplates a world "swallowed by evil". Where Sea Change fed off a recent break-up, the impetus here is spiritual dismay.

"You treat distraction like it's a religion," Beck chides, and his own Scientologist beliefs seem near the surface, as he tries to transcend a fallen world. But, splashed by synth-orchestral colours and jungle beats, this is an enjoyable account of alienation. "Profanity Prayers" includes lines worthy of Dylan, updated for 21st-century consumerist ennui: "And you wait at the light/ And watch for a sign that you're breathing..." Oddly, Beck, once typed as a post-modern dilettante, now convincingly pleads for something real.

Pick of the album: "Chemtrails", "Modern Guilt", "Replica", "Profanity Prayers", "Volcano"