If it initially seems like surprises are in short supply on The Information -- even when the tracks take a left turn, it doesn't feel like Beck and Godrich are wandering off the map -- the craft is strong and assured, and closer listens reveal the depth of the detail within the album, whether it's in the construction of the production or how those productions illuminate Beck's themes. Ever the obscurist, Beck's meanings aren't always crystal clear, which is no doubt deliberate, but his overall intent is easier to ascertain, especially when "Cellphone's Dead" juts up against "Nausea. " There's a greater sense of craft here, and while craft isn't necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Beck, it's what happens when an eccentric sticks around for over a decade: he turns pro.
It's been a while since a new Beck album was a must-hear event, but when the zeitgeist eventually comes back around, he'll be waiting for it with his definitive mixture of whimsy and impenetrable humour. The Information - 17 mashed-up tracks long, and as abstract as he's ever been - isn't the one to usher in his second golden era, though. The casual listener's introduction to it will probably be the single Cellphone's Dead, whose mess of robo-bleeps, cackling children and laconic rapping is likely to discourage further investigation.
What about the hats? Customizing The Information booklet and CD inset tray from the enclosed sticker sheet matrixes third eyes galore, mirrored orbs, killer klowns (one merely drooling), and a vulnerable woodcut. Yet the headgear only makes it onto the accompanying DVD, matching Flaming Lips cable-access visuals to high-gloss "Elevator Music" byte for byte. Cameos by Devendra Banhart, Marissa Ribisi, and a double-neck Mosrite leave only a cursory YouBoob double take in the face of Radiohead Nigel Godrich's bottomless aural playscape.