- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

LOS ANGELES

Standing on a gritty downtown street corner, Beck yawns and leans against a dark cane perfectly matched to his light gray suit.

He’s an urban nymph: straight blond hair to his shoulders, bright blue eyes and pale unlined skin, an anomaly in this seedy nighttime scene — the set of the video for “Nausea,” a single from his new pop-rap hybrid album, “The Information.”

“This album is a relief. I’ve been working on it for almost three years. It’s been on my shoulders for a long time, and it’s good to have it coming out and be out of my hands,” he says as extras, production people and his own team scurry about.

In the middle of this chaotic mix, Beck’s 2-year-old son, Cosimo — a tiny, babbling version of his father in green alligator boots — runs around, kicking his baby bottle on the grimy, trash-strewn street.

“Daddy’s dancing,” Cosimo shouts to no one in particular. His mother, Beck’s pixieish wife, actress Marissa Ribisi, follows the tyke with her camera, gleefully snapping photos.

Twelve years since the release of Beck’s breakthrough album, “Mellow Gold,” with its jangly anthemic hit “Loser,” the 36-year-old L.A. native, singer, bohemian rapper and multi-instrumentalist has moved from eclectic slacker to family man, adding another dimension to his multifaceted persona.

Some may think “The Information” was a quick turnaround for Beck after the release of last year’s “Guero,” lauded as a mature amalgam of rap, folk and rock. However, Beck says his new CD — filled with dense, dark lyrics and layers of samples, guitars, strings and beats — proved more ambitious.

He worked concurrently on “Guero” and “The Information” but finished “Guero” first.

“There was a lot of trial and error. There was a lot of working on things that didn’t come to fruition,” he says of the new album, noting that he started with 40 songs and threw away about 10 to 15.

The rhythmically psychedelic pop, rock and hip-hop album was produced by Nigel Godrich, the knob-twister behind Beck’s somber albums “Sea Change” and “Mutations” as well as the group Radiohead.

“I was trying to bring some of what I’ve done on records like ‘Odelay’ and the more beat-oriented stuff and the more introspective songwriter stuff, like ‘Sea Change,’” Beck says. “I was making an effort to see how I could synthesize those two aspects of my music. It was definitely a challenge. How do you say something personal over a hip-hop beat?”

“Personal,” though, may not be how the gorgeously constructed album or its creator come across.

On the video’s set, the slender musician is friendly but detached, in keeping with his weariness with interviews. He answers questions, but vaguely, and doesn’t delve into details of his personal life. Even his CDs, known for their increasingly depressive lyrics, eschew direct emotion for metaphor and cryptic cultural discourse.

As the video camera rolls, characters zoom past Beck, a solitary figure on a barren city sidewalk. One extra is dressed as a cowboy, one as a punk, one a soldier in fatigues, one a woman in a sweeping red dress and one a middle-aged man. Two are dressed as construction workers.

“I got my maps all backwards and my instincts poisoned/In a truth blown gutter full of wasted years/Like blown out speakers ringing in my ears … It’s nausea, oh nausea, and we’re gone,” Beck lip-syncs to a playback of the song, his body slightly hunched as he walks.

“Nausea,” like many other tunes on “The Information,” is lighthearted on the surface, full of dance-worthy beats and pop grandeur, but it speaks lyrically to darker, nebulous corners of the musician’s psyche.

Beck, who has publicly criticized the Bush administration, says “the majority of the record was being written as the [Iraq] war was starting. But it’s not so topical. It’s not like I wrote it six months ago.”

“When you’re writing songs or painting pictures, what’s happening in the atmosphere just goes in. You can’t really edit it out,” he says.

In recent years, Beck’s belief in Scientology has attracted curiosity and controversy, spurring critics to speculate about its affect on his music and life. Beck’s wife also is a Scientologist. He doesn’t reveal much about his involvement with Scientology, and when asked on the video set what he seeks solace in — faith, music, family — he hesitates.

“I don’t know. What everybody else does. Family. For me, art.”

Then he pulls away to face the cameras once again.

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