Guero

Studio Album by released in 2005

Guero review

We loved Beck the sex machine (Midnight Vultures), Beck the mutant folkie (Mutations) and even heartbreak Beck (Sea Change). Guero, however, is the real follow-up to his outstanding opus Odelay. Guero (Mexican slang for "white boy") is full of pop culture cross-references, musical mish-mash, mad, pixilated beats and lyrical shot blocks. If Beck ever gets around to putting out a greatest-hits set, it will sound a lot like Guero. Take the chaotic junkyard production of Odelay, add the bittersweet sentiments of Sea Change and top it off with a dash of Midnite Vultures' Paisley Park funk, and you get new tracks like "Hell Yeah" and "Black Tambourine".

Ever since his thrilling 1994 debut with Mellow Gold, each new Beck album was a genuine pop cultural event, since it was never clear which direction he would follow. Kicking off his career as equal parts noise-prankster, indie folkster, alt-rocker and ironic rapper, he's gone to extremes, veering between garishly ironic party music to brooding heartbroken baroque-pop, and this unpredictability is a large part of his charm, since each album was distinct from the one before. That remains true with Guero, his eighth album (sixth, if you don't count 1994's Stereopathetic Soul Manure and One Foot in the Grave, which some don't) but the surprising thing here is that it sounds for all the world like a good, straight-ahead, garden variety Beck album, which is something he's never delivered prior to this 2005 release. In many ways, Guero is deliberately designed as a classicist Beck album. But he now operates with the skill and precision of a craftsman, never dumping too many ideas into one song, paring his words down to their essentials, mixing the record for a wider audience than just his friends. No, it's not a knock-out, the way his first few records were, but it's a successful mature variation on Odelay, one that proves that Beck's sensibility will continue to reap rewards for him as he enters his second decade of recording.

Odelay is the obvious reference point on several levels. Guero’s lead single and opener, “E-Pro” is a brilliantly mutated and rocking version of Odelay’s “Devil’s Haircut”, the sampling of the Beastie Boys’ “So Whatcha Want” notwithstanding. Beck sounds more refined in his skills both as a songwriter and as a sound collector here. “Que Onda Guero” is a microcosm of Beck’s melting pot sound. His white boy rapping never sounds insincere, even when it’s random or silly. The song sounds like Beck free styling over a boombox he’s holding on his shoulder as he walks down a filthy street in Mexico. Its melody is subversive; the sample repeats in your head and you’re ready to walk beside him in a yellow Adidas sweatsuit and some over-sized amber aviators within seconds. The IBM Commodore 64 blips that open “Girl” are immediate and infectious and by the time Beck swoops in with his driving vocal line, you’re wet and ready. It might even be Beck’s finest pop song. The aching in Beck’s voice makes his good songs great, and “Missing” is a perfect example. It has the faux-Caribbean sway of “Tropicalia” with a haunting and sweeping keyboard line. It’s more sophisticated musically than anything on Odelay yet just as successfully experimental, which accurately characterizes the overall relationship of this album to Odelay and even to Beck’s entire cannon.

No, Guero’s not as wacky or random as Odelay, but it’s not supposed to be. That would be redundant. Beck’s got more depth now than he did a decade ago, as evidenced by both Mutations and Sea Change. It’s not that he’s lost his edge; he just chooses his battles more carefully now. His ideas are more fully formed and his songwriting sustains without the off the wall kitsch and showiness to prop it all up.