The pairing of Beck with the ubiquitous and occasionally overheated producer Danger Mouse seems like it could be a graveyard of bad intentions: a veteran performer reaching out for relevance, a praised—but not loved—name-brand producer latching onto a project that could add the luster of respect to his dance and Top 40 credentials.
But Modern Guilt, even with its relentlessly morbid tone, is no graveyard. Beck, who seemed, for a while, to reinvent himself with each record, achieves an austere classicism on the disc, a collection of what are essentially old-fashioned straight-up ’70s California rock songs dressed up for the late ’00s. Modern Guilt is a guitar rock record; a muted one, for sure, rounded out by piano and marimba and Danger Mouse’s unobtrusive beats (which function about the same as a live drum kit would have), but totally within the tradition of the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and Fleetwood Mac.
The lyrics sound like 1990s indie rock—“Come on little gamma ray / Standing in a hurricane / Your brains are bored like a refugee from a house that’s burning”—but they’re surrounded by the most memorable melodies Beck has produced since Midnite Vultures. It feels like he has nothing to prove, and that freedom has rubbed off on Danger Mouse.