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Flashing lights and stickers and bear costumes, oh my

I listened to Beck’s new album, The Information, and I didn’t like it. I thought it droned on incessantly, the lyrics were uninspired and the production and sampling were mostly overdone. There were actually songs that I hated – really hated – which is pretty uncharacteristic of me.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, this is the band that put out Guero last year. This is the band that chimes in my memory with songs like ‘Loser’ and ‘Where It’s At.’ There must be something I’m missing.”

It turns out there was.

It’s hard to pinpoint, requiring a few concentrated listens to understand, but there is a certain unpredictable depth to The Information that pulls it together. Beck is a band known for trying something a little different with each album. Sometimes it’s folky rhythm guitar, other times it’s syncopated white-boy rap. One can never be sure what to expect when a Beck album is cued up.

Rather than their usual deviation, Beck’s latest offering is kind of a combination of all the previous successful attempts at branching out with their style.

The opening track, “Elevator Music,” hearkens back to the loose-lipped rhymes that cemented Beck’s pseudo-rap style in the mid-’90s. The lyrics are incredibly really deep or moving, but they are clever and fun to listen to. For example, “I’m uptight super gathered out of the frame / I shake a leg on the ground like an epileptic battery man.” It doesn’t really tell a story, but it does evoke some interesting imagery.

The album slows down a bit with the next couple of tracks. The chorus of “Think I’m in Love,” the second song on the album, is a bit repetitive. The following track, “Cellphone’s Dead,” picks up the pace a bit, but the sample of someone saying, “One by one, I’ll knock you out,” seems misplaced and a little forced. There is a lot of musical texture, however. The background is heavily layered with a variety of instruments and electronic bleeps and blips that somehow make the song work.

From here on, the album breezes along fine with a few standouts. “Nausea,” in particular, is definitely worth a listen. The opening verse, “Now I’m a seasick sailor on a ship of noise / I got my maps all backwards and my instincts poisoned / in a truth-blown gutter full of wasted years / like blown-out speakers ringin’ in my ears,” is some of the best writing on the album, and it only gets better as the song progresses.

The album continues to improve with two more significant tracks in the slow, ethereal “New Round” and the pronounced strumming and vocal singularity of “No Complaints.”

Beyond the music itself, the album gets points for its packaging. Beck decided to forgo album art. Instead, the liner notes are a blank section of graph paper. Tucked inside is a sheet of very creative stickers. If one wants to adorn a copy of The Information with a picture of an owl-headed tiger sporting human hands and dice on its tail, that option is available. If one is a little more conservative, he or she could opt for a guitar made of hair or an axed Raggedy Ann instead.

Another interesting fact about The Information is that Beck decided to record a video for each of the songs and give each song its own logo (which are provided in sticker form, as well).

The videos are not major productions by any means, but they are fun to watch. It seems like the band got its hands on a treasure trove of thrift-store clothing and bear costumes, and then put them on at random. The members combined these wacky outfits with some not-so-special effects and ended up with a jittery, pulsating montage of blinking highly colorized imagery and retro sharkskin blazers.

These videos are included on a DVD that is packaged with the album. They may, however, be better as background to a party rather than something to sit down and watch.

In a word, The Information is deceptive. At first it seems quite simple – even bland – but after listening to it a couple of times, its true colors begin to show. There is a subtlety to the album that allows it to grow on the listener. Bottom line: If you are a Beck fan, it won’t be hard to love this album; if you are new to their style, give it a chance and it could become favorite.