''Little worse for wear,'' raps Beck on the shambling opener of his new album, ''but I'm wearing it well.'' Very well, in fact. Last year's Guero debuted at No. 2 on the charts. And if the CD release glut kept it from making a more lasting impact, perhaps that inspired The Information, a swarming, psychedelic set partly about data overload.
No one's better suited to shape such a project than Nigel Godrich, producer of Radiohead's OK Computer and Kid A, two landmarks of data-overload art. Here, he and Beck pump bleeps, blips, samples, scratches, voices, telephone noises, and kalimbas into songs soaked in drones and dub reverb. It's a sonic tour de force, and Beck seems comfortable in the info-storm, which he presents not as dystopia or utopia, but as a restless middle ground, like Dante's limbo, or America in 2006. The Information clearly aspires to be a self-aware update of dorm-room bong-hit soundtracks like The Dark Side of the Moon or OK Computer, right down to the cryptic, spaced-out outro (voiced by director Spike Jonze and author Dave Eggers). It earns those comparisons. At a time when freaky '60s music is being revived with varying levels of aesthetic discernment (Espers, Comets on Fire), Beck manages to drink the psychedelic Kool-Aid without losing his wits in the process.