Thursday, June 09, 2005

Beck - Guero

I wrote this months ago, to send to Say...'s new reviews section. I intended to do another draft that I liked better but procrastinated and never did. So, I'll post it here and maybe send something else to them for a new issue. I was trying a more legit "reviwer's voice" as opposed to the usual slapdash rambling I do here. What do you think?

Beck - Guero

Music makes me happy. For every one dark, depressing, album I own, I have three that consistently succeed to put a smile on my face. Beck's new album makes me very happy. It has a unique groove, somewhere between B-boy-rap, harmonica- touting cowboy, and a funky time-traveler. Dancing guitars and passionate percussion compete with old-school beats and Beck's gorgeous, slurpy, raspy, voice, coming together in a frenzy of unadulterated joy.

Guero kicks off with a rocker of a track, "E-Pro." Using a Beastie Boys beat to set the stage, a guitar that sounds like a baby's rattler hovers at the forefront, almost drowning out Beck's vocals in the grunge-era noise. But when Beck "Na-Na-Na's" his way through the chorus, all is well with the world. This is Beck returned, rejuvenated, and with a kick in his step. The second track, "Que Onda Guero" is a long lost cousin to Beck's breakout single, "Loser," complete with a chorus line in Spanish and a lazy rhythm popular about ten years ago. The song is a time warp, reminding me of gym classes in the Bronx with Puerto Rican kids shouting "Hey, putas!" and MTV videos that were more than just ego-trips. Listening to this song you are instantly transported back to a simpler time, when terrorism was a distant, foreign sounding, word and when someone said the word Bush I thought of the band.

"Girl" and "Missing" comprise the emotional heart of the first half of the album. Juxtaposing a Nintendo beat and a head swaying melody, "Girl" is classic Beck. Even the banal lyrics of "Yeah, I saw her, my girl" take on an anthem-like power sung with strength and conviction. And the Nigel Godrich-mixed "Missing" combines the best Sea Change flourishes with a hypnotic beat and a very personal message.

"Black Tambourine" is the best smile-inducing track on the album. A seductive melody counterpoints somber lyrics and that rattling guitar again. When Beck sings, unable to mask his grin, "My tambourine is still shaking," a shaking tambourine pounds out a bridge and you know you're listening to a confident master, not afraid to be a little cheesy in his old age. "Earthquake Weather" also references Sea Change with horns and violins that screech and moan. Producers The Dust Brothers add their craftsmen's' touch all over the album but especially here: Crystal clear beats and complicated arrangements do justice to the mature songwriting. Still, I can't help but feel Beck holding back some. We know from his wild changes of tone with each album that he's capable of "letting it all hang loose" or "wearing his heart on his sleeve" (to use entirely accurate clich├ęs) and so I can feel that final step not taken, that reeled back finale to each track. Maybe he's saving it for the next one.

Another smiling highpoint comes with "Hell Yes," sounding like something off Midnite Vultures and working best stoned or drunk or a pleasant combination of the two. A robotized girl voice intones, "Hell yes… please enjoy," while Beck sings about dancing and "cleanin' the floor" and "skeleton boys hyped up on purple." After two minutes of dance floor beats and 70s' grooving, a fractured harmonica takes over the song, bringing it to a raucous climax.

Critics are split on this album, some praising its postmodernism and confidence while others bemoan more of the same-old, same-old from this adventurous artist. I take the middle ground. Yes, a lot of the singles sound pre-packaged and unemotional, and yes, the last third of the album is muddy and dull, and yes, there's nothing really new here, but! This is an enjoyable album for people who like enjoyable albums.

Take Beck's heartfelt advice: forget the world for forty minutes... and please enjoy.


Alan said...

Did you know Beck was a Scientologist?

Good review--when you get a chance you should pick up Discovery by Daft Punk (I think I mentioned them at Wiscon?). I'm really interested on your take on them.

Elad said...

will do!

Beck is probably a scientologist because he's a hip LA scenester and that's what all hip LA scenesters do. Or maybe to meet women.