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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beck: Guero

BECK: GUERO (2005)

1) E-Pro; 2) Qué Onda Guero; 3) Girl; 4) Missing; 5) Black Tambourine; 6) Earthquake Weather; 7) Hell Yes; 8) Broken Drum; 9) Scarecrow; 10) Go It Alone; 11) Farewell Ride; 12) Rental Car; 13) Emergency; 14*) Send A Message To Her; 15*) Chain Reaction; 16*) Crap Hands.

Having exorcised the irritating breakup demon fair and square, Beck had also honored the al­ter­nation for­mula («one for the body, one for the mind»), and now it was time to get back to the hot stuff. Out with Godrich, in with The Dust Brothers: the man was becoming predictable like clock­work. Fortunately for us, the predictability only extended to the overall choice of producer and musical direction — in everything else, the man's brain was still popping out new exciting ideas like crazy. In fact, he hit his commercial peak with Guero: not a mean feat for a guy with more than ten years of an established musical career behind his back, and something that most of to­day's artists, even the «real» ones, could only hope for.

Some have described Guero as sort of a synthesis — another record in the wild, reckless, trendy party style of Midnite Vultures, but tempered off and sombered up with some of the moodiness and broodiness of Sea Change. This is not quite the case. Of all the songs on here, only ʽBroken Drumʼ, with its slow tempo, sad piano chords, and farewell lyrics, could have easily fit on Sea Change — but on Guero, it is more of an intruder, a «breather» providing some respite from the energetic beats and waves upon waves of noisy overdubs on the «dance» tracks. It is true that, in general, Guero goes heavier on distorted guitar riffs, grumbly vocals, and disturbing lyrics than Midnite Vultures. But none of these things demand to be taken too seriously. We really are back here to the world of «expensive cheap thrills», «trash-muzak» of the highest quality imaginable, although, in some cases, still somewhat intellectually stimulating.

To be sure, ʽE-Proʼ is far more of an aggressive, clenched-teeth opener than ʽSexx Lawsʼ ever was, with its funky drive and merry brass fanfare. Here, Smokey Hormel immediately kicks in with the heaviest guitar riff on the album, hearkening back to the «brawny» 1970s early metal scene, and Beck's arrogant "see me comin' to town with my soul... see me kickin' the door with my boots..." tongue-lashers almost reach out like an "I'm back in the saddle again!" sort of mes­sage, though, naturally, the man's lyrics in general never once begin to make literal or figurative sense, and it is only the choice of words that matters: "devil", "garbage" (of course! Mr. Hansen's favorite word in the English language), "rubbish", "snakes and bones", "poison", "wolves", well, you must have guessed already that giving candy to strangers with a smile on your face isn't exactly what the song is about. But on the other hand, it is also doggone catchy, in a happy pop sort of way, with all the "na na na na"'s providing the giggle factor — and, while we're at it, there is quite a bit of "na-na-nah-ing" and "la-la-lah-ing" on this, allegedly dark and broody, record (ʽGo It Aloneʼ, ʽRental Carʼ, etc.).

ʽGirlʼ and ʽHell Yesʼ were the other two singles, and they are quite dissimilar. ʽGirlʼ is essentially a Sixties' style sunshine pop nugget with modern production — some drum machines, some electronic bleeps, soon choked with traditional slide guitars — that cannot refrain from the temp­tation of a mildly shocking refrain ("hey, my cyanide girl", which could easily be misheard as "hey, my summer girl" or "hey, my sunny girl", but this is exactly what the lyrics sheet is for). ʽHell Yesʼ, on the other hand, represents the Dust Brothers in full flight, supplying cool hip-hop beats and samples while Beck is rapping about the delights of being serviced by a bunch of Japa­nese robots and guest star Christina Ricci is providing the occasional "please enjoy" and "sumi­masen". Yes, we have come quite a long way from Kraftwerk and The Man Machinethis sort of robotics now feels quite comfortable and housebroken. Sexy, in fact. Plus, it's always the little things — like the ability to make a working hook out of the expression "hell yes".

Once again, Beck's monster-like ear for intrigue and excitement ensures that there is virtually no filler on the album — everything has at least something to it, but my personal favoritism extends mainly to ʽScarecrowʼ (the ʽMixed Biznessʼ of this album, I'd say, with delicious disco bass of instantaneous toe-tapping value, and the chorus line about how "scarecrow's only scaring him­self" has become inexplicably wedged inside my brain for some reason); the aforementioned ʽBroken Drumʼ, a celebration of stately, but troubled serenity that might as well have served as the blueprint for Beach House's entire career; and ʽRental Carʼ, which is just a good fun driving song. Along the way, Beck also plunders Bo Diddley (ʽBlack Tambourineʼ), old gospel blues (ʽFarewell Rideʼ), and offers a friendly tribute to his Mexican friends (ʽQué Onda Gueroʼ), even if there is hardly anything Spanish, other than a big chunk of the lyrics, to this cool-struttin' chunk of new-school-white-bread R&B.

From a detached, historical point of view, Guero could count as a relative disappointment — it does not add anything «major» to Beck's legacy, just another large heap of small ideas on how to synthesize this and that and generate another squad of creepy, disfigured, but perversely attractive musical monsters, according to the practice already perfected on Midnite Vultures. But even if this is not necessarily «going up», neither it is, by any means, a downwards slide. Everything about Guero is honestly enjoyable, and the tiny added pinch of darkness also makes it less deca­dent and superficially silly than Vultures — quite in line with the general demands of the mid-2000s hipster crowds (and most of their young idols would kill for an album of such quality, any­way). Hence, the usual — a thumbs up with all due joy and reverence; and do look for the UK issue, which adds several bonus tracks that kick up even more rucus (ʽChain Reactionʼ is as crazy as the man ever got with that style, and more).

Check "Guero" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Guero" (MP3) on Amazon

4 comments:

  1. This is my first Beck album. And I agree with your assessment, it doesn't add anything new to Beck's legacy, and through that perspective, it would probably qualify as a 'disappointment'. But it's a very very enjoyable album from start to end, sort of like really really good (but not necessarily innovative) Britpop album.

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  2. terrific review, as always... but this is the record where i became less-than-interested in beck, perhaps because he himself sounds so less-than-interested: i cannot stand the "mopey beck voice," which flattens all the melodies out, and the arrangements buzz and hum but never groove for me like the ones on "odelay" and "vultures" (i mean, "e-pro" is just a vastly inferior version of "devil's haircut," no? and is "black tambourine" not just a slightly inferior version of "e-pro"?). "guero" sounds like beck trying to be beck, but it doesn't have that beck inspiration, that zaniness that makes his best albums so fun and interesting. he'd done it all at this point, and had nothing to prove, and no one to impress... the fire is gone.

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  3. This is his best album, save Sea Change. All killer, no filler. Way better than Odelay!, which, of course, gets points for being earlier in the the timeline (and thus more original).

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  4. It's a great record with some odd quirks - for instance, all of the chorus lyrics ARE either "na nah nah" "Yeah yeah yeah" or "la la lah." Its like they're placeholder lyrics for an actual chorus. Or maybe he just ran out of time. That's the other odd thing about this record - it was a rush job apparently. As a sign of the time, the record was leaked online early, leading Beck to release it before it was done apparently (from what I remember reading at the time). I have heard the "leaked" version and there are some notable differences.

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