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Beck 

The Information (Interscope)

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This is typically when Beck would hit you with a change-up -- dim the lights, warm the milk, and go quietly into the darkness to follow the party-rock highjinks of Guero with an album more in keeping with his introspective side. And Nigel Godrich did produce Beck's two most understated records, Mutations and Sea Change. But The Information, an album Beck and Godrich started working on three years ago, does something truly unexpected. It actually repeats the approach Beck took to Guero -- from a leadoff track that works the folk-rap beat ("Son of Loser") to the melancholy psychedelic majesty of "Soldier Jane" and "Dark Star," the latter of which has strings that sound like someone throwing Zep's "Kashmir" off the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

If anything, this album pushes the beat even harder than Guero, and not just in obvious places like "1000BPM" or "Cellphone's Dead" (a bass-popping triumph that could be this year's "Where It's At"). Even the midtempo folk-rock has a spring in its step. And the brilliantly surreal lyrics see Beck plumbing the heart of darkness with a lampshade on his head.

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