US - California - Full Moon 104 - 03/25/05
After a couple months of demos and unmastered versions floating around, Guero is finally released among a general climate of "this shit is going to suck". Well, let's take a listen and decide for ourselves. Here's what I thought:
It seems to me that Beck almost works better as a multi-platinum artist. I, and I'm definitely not the only one, long for a return to the 90s Beck, you know, the one that sells. The guy that was the coolest slacker ever, the one that you could easily imagine sleeping on friends' couches at times in his life
before he became a big rock star. I want a return to the almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics, the sexyness, the dancyness, the raunchy subject material. And that Godrich production was fucking amazing. But, I'm okay with not getting that; Beck is allowed to make whatever kind of music he wants. The catch is that if it's not good, I'll be damned piss! And that would be bad because Luna Kafé reviews virtually make or break respect for artists these days.
I could be wrong, but listening to this, I kind of get the picture that Beck is a little insecure about the commercial viability of this album. I'm interested in "a return to that 90s Beck" but, is the music buying public (especially in the U.S.) really that interested in Beck anymore? I'm actually not surprised that
so many 13 year-old girls bought the latest Modest Mouse LP at Target, but I doubt they'll be buying this one like the pre-teens of years past got Mutations or Odelay. I do think for the first time in his career, Beck is beginning to sound like he knows he's somewhat a thing of the past, which besides the
turn-table work (and sometimes the productions) is likely to be this album's biggest musical problem.
So Beck's Sea Change is over, now where has it moved him? I think the Sea washed Beck down to South America. It's a fun place, and Beck that isn't fun is Beck that isn't good. The album opens with a party sound. "E-pro", the opener and lead single off the album, is a strait-ahead rocker, with plenty of
almost-toasted verses and probably the most 90s signiture Beck chorus on this album. It's a gutsy opening that uses plenty of electric guitar and a wonderful hand-clap right speaker breakdown. Continuing with the "Latin theme" on the title track, Beck is still giving a lot of us what we want: his Mutations days made new. "Que Onda Guero" is a good and funny song. Beck sure hasn't lost his sense of humor. "Girl", sees prodigious use of the great 8-bit keyboard in its intro and sports a new kind of pop for Beck. "Girl" sounds almost like what you'd expect from the title, but not necessarily out of Beck. In some respects we have here almost a Beach Boys informed Beck sound. This style really fits Beck well, and this is a great song. The chorus that will be in my head this spring and summer: "Hey, My Summer Girl".
Track 4, "Missing", was earlier titled "Brazilica". It features a Bo Diddly riff and a criminal cello-line. The cello gives way quickly to Beck's voice, where he wastes no time with his signiture heavily sharp-note-seasoned melodies. Beck is certainly not dispensing with the words on this album, definitely one
of the things he does best. "Black Tambourine", an incredible name for a song, is also a little weak but gets a lot better anytime the electric guitar comes in. Here Beck uses another Bo Diddly rhythm. This song cuts short though, and doesn't seem to really go anywhere except when the electric guitar is in.
"Earthquake Weather" takes Beck to more brand-new and great territory. We're talking a tip of the hat to Joe Jackson here. We're talking 80s melodies in this one, folks, which I for one find awesome coming out of Beck. The production is at its best here as well. Voice samples and dialogue are something that season this album, in this song they are buried and sound ghostly. More of this! "Hell Yes" seems the most Dust Brothers centered song on the album, and the cuts aren't that bad. Beck basically raps on this song, and I can't say he doesn't do it well. A little odd sounding maybe, but it's entertaining. "Broken Drum", the song Boards of Canada remix on the delux version, doesn't really work. Perhaps that's why BoC wanted to remix it? The song is oddly confusing and seems all-over-the-place. I'm anxious to hear what Boards do with it. Can't knock this song though, because like in every other Beck song, his rhymes make up for everything.
"Scarecrow", like a couple other songs on Guero, seems involved with a sort of minimal but at-times-boring territory that does little more than move the album on to a Really Good Song. It seems to me that Beck is ironing out styles on this record, so I suppose these tracks are almost a necessity. It's just
that they may or may not be on mixes and playlists. Listen to the words if you don't get too bored by the song to do so. Oh and the processed harmonica is ace. "Go It Alone" is another "minimal track" that does move the album along nicely, but fails as a song. Even the very good chourus doesn't quite save it. "Farewell Ride", is a fucking great Beck song. Here he uses that 8-bit sounding instrument again that showed up so often on Midnight Vultures. There's plenty of booming bass, completely over-driven guitar, and funny-ass "yeeeeahs" to go around on this track. He keeps it interesting with a bridge that clears the air for a moment, then comes some damned crazy guitar soloing. Great f-ing track.
The denouement begins with "Rental Car", which sports more handclaps and another damned good chorus. Mostly the verses and bridges do leave a bit to be desired, but there's one breakdown of sampled female voices going "la la la la la" that is funny and awesome. 4/5 "Nazarene", which has a nice intro, is the last song. It uses soft buzzsaw bass and warm "oohs", which give way to a pretty boring song, unfortunately. There's some neat guitar work that comes in at about three-quarters of the way through, but it's not enough to carry the song. "Nazarene" finishes the album out on a bit of low point.
This is a highly anticipated release for Beck fans, to say the least. Turns out it's a Good Album. A limited edition is set to feature three bonus songs: "Send A Message To Her", "Chain Reaction" (a title used on the unmastered leak in the place of "Farewell Ride"), and "Clap Hands". It also features 4 remixes:
an Octet remix of "Girl", a Boards of Canada remix of "Broken Drum", a Ryöksopp remix of "Still Missing", and a "Fax Machine Anthem" remix by Dizzee Rascal. Well, I have to say I'm not pissed, and Beck's respect is still intact. I might even be wrong about my sales prediction for this album. While there are a number of boring moments here, they are overshadowed by a copious basket of really great songs. Beck is more than a few albums into things now, and this doesn't hold a candle to the best of his work. But overall I believe this to be a fine album that will stand out in his catalogue. Viva Beck, he's definitely still got it.
Copyright © 2005 Bill Banks