The Music Box's #5 album of 2005
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2005, Volume 12, #3
Written by John Metzger
Upon releasing Mellow Gold in 1994, Beck immediately was coronated as something greater than he was by a swarm of rock critics and music fans. Hailed as the new Bob Dylan, folk rockís answer to hip hop, and countless other meaningless titles, he could have become overwhelmed by the attention, folded up his tent, and gone home; or he could have regurgitated the contents of his successful debut until everyone wished he had skipped town. Instead, he did what any other savvy, self-assured songwriter would do: he met his applauding audience on its terms by swiping a sample from Themís rendition of Dylanís famous kiss-off Itís All Over Now, Baby Blue, and he prominently featured it on Jack-Ass, one of the finest tracks from his proper sophomore effort Odelay. Since then, heís been impossible to pigeonhole, simply because he so frenetically has darted from one place to the next, shifting direction rather dramatically with each subsequent release by alternating in his own Neil Young-ian fashion between party anthems and pensive musings. Mutations was a seductively subdued samba that served primarily as a spotlight for his rapidly developing songwriting prowess; Midnite Vultures rummaged through an array of funky grooves in a manner that slyly drew comparisons between the excesses of the cocaine and "dot com" eras; and Sea Change, delved with a newfound focus, into the emotional wreckage of a relationship that had dissolved.
It only makes sense, then, that on his most recent effort Guero, Beck would return, once again, to exploring the kaleidoscopic swirl of funk and hip hop-laced rock, and in a sense, he does. Reunited with the Dust Brothers, who previously collaborated with him on both Odelay and Midnite Vultures, Beck begins his sixth major label outing with the one-two punch of E-Pro and Que Onda Guero, and at first glance, the pulsating beats, jubilantly elastic rhythms, and the junkyard collage of sonic reverberations seem both familiar and expected. Yet, as Guero progresses, itís clear that he has other things on his mind. Girlís warm, sunny, Beach Boys-inspired arrangement masks the songís chilling lyrics, which relay the ritualistic obsession of a serial killerís thoughts; the heartache of Missing is submerged within a mesmerizing Brazilian pop groove; the bittersweet Broken Drum, with its ambient drone, falls somewhere between Syd Barrett and Up-era R.E.M.; Farewell Rideís contemplation of mortality sounds like an old spiritual as sung by a modern day Jim Morrison; and Rental Car is born as a blast of í60s-era garage rock, but at its midpoint, it ventures into someplace delightfully strange and different.
In other words, Guero is not at all identical to Beckís prior outings, yet it also is quite like them. That may seem like an unusual paradox, but his most recent song cycle essentially is a fusion of everything that he has ever concocted. The difference between this and his previous endeavors is that as he has matured, he has gained some much needed direction. Not only have his lyrics grown more poignant and personal, but his post-modern pop experimentation also has lost its gimmicky qualities. As a result, Beck now sounds less like heís dressing himself in an array of different costumes just to see how they fit, and more like he simply is being his eclectically-inclined self. The result is as magnificent as the most stunning patchwork quilt, and without a doubt, Guero is the sound of an artist in full command of his talent.
Of Further Interest...
Guero is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box