Album review: Beck's "Guero"

Is Beck's new record his best yet?

By Salon Staff
Published March 29, 2005 4:25PM (EST)

A number of reviews have referred to "Guero" as combining the styles of earlier Beck releases ("Odelay" crossed with "Sea Change" seems to be the most common formulation), but to me it sounds more like the Platonic ideal of what a Beck album should be, the imaginary music around which all of his earlier work has revolved, aspired to, or even rebelled against. That's not necessarily a statement of quality -- I'm not yet sure whether I prefer "Guero" to "Mutations" or "Odelay" -- so much as it is a reflection of the overwhelming Beckness of it all, the way in which this album clearly articulates the singular aesthetic that Beck has been dancing around for the last decade.

"Guero" has all the Beck trademarks: A gleeful meshing and mashing of disparate genres, deadpan vocal stylings, absurdist cut and paste lyrics, consciously uncool white boy rapping, the somewhat dour air he takes on in moments of emotional nakedness, and the deep, sometimes overpowering influence of early American folk and blues lingering just beneath the surface. But never before have all of Beck's multiple personalities coexisted so peacefully, or seemed so essentially the same. Beck's peripatetic genre excursions have revealed themselves as more or less interchangeable parts of an unexpectedly coherent whole. There's really not a whole lot of difference between a Beck tropicalia song, a Beck R&B song and a Beck folk song, and beneath the surface-level eclecticism, this is a perfectly aesthetically consistent record. More than anything, Beck really nails the melodies this time: Song after song has a memorable, singable, beautiful chorus, from "Girl" (sunny pop with scary lyrics) to "Go It Alone" (Alan Lomax chain-gang field recording with bass line courtesy of Jack White) to, best of all, "Earthquake Weather," which has maybe the loveliest, most affecting chorus he's ever written.

There were times, through the mid to late '90s, when Beck acted as a pop culture weathervane, and sometimes his music was so prescient of trends to come that it felt as if he wasn't so much predicting what would happen next in popular music as he was making it happen, leading the rest of the pack. Those days are long gone, and "Guero" doesn't have anything like the air of pop cultural sorcery that "Mellow Gold," "Odelay" and even "Mutations" did. "Guero" in no way expands the bounds of popular music, and it doesn't point in any useful directions for others to follow. But Beck has never been quite so fun to listen to.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------