red lights


Beck takes a breather to reflect


Beck - Guero
(Interscope Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: April 19, 2005

Review by Tony Bonyata

It's been a long strange haul for alternative wunderkind Beck Hansen since he first hit the scene with his infectious anthem to self-loathing "Loser." From raw, stripped down southern folk-blues (One Foot In The Grave) and cut-and-paste hip-hop-flavored indie-rock (Mellow Gold and Odelay) to sexed-up, funkified soul (Midnight Vultures) and even though-provoking singer-songwriter fare (Sea Change and Mutations), Beck has never been an easy one to pin down. In fact, this 34-year old artist has, more often than not, created trends in music and style rather than following them.
But now, for the first time in his twelve-year career, the song remains the same as Beck rehashes many pivotal points from his own back catalog on his seventh full-length album Guero.
The immediate overall feel from these thirteen tracks is reminiscent of his genre-hopping albums Mellow Gold and Odelay (especially on the hip-hop laced "Hell Yes" and "Que Onda Guero" - the latter which nicks a similar vocal delivery from his song "Beercan"). Of course, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise since The Dust Brothers (who also worked their magic on Odelay) have again lent their production talents here. But deeper listening also reveals other songs that touch on all of his past transformations as well. The heavy punch of "E-Pro" which opens up Guero has a similar immediacy of "Devil's Haircut," while the rubbery "Scarecrow" sounds as if it could've been an outtake from Odelay. Likewise, numbers such as the breezy "Missing" revisits the Caribbean feel that originally sambaed its way onto the stripped-down Mutations, while "Broken Drum," with it's simple, yet graceful piano-line and harrowing guitar, features the introspective side of this artist originally explored on his more recent Sea Change album. The poppy drive of "Girl" and "Rental Car" both hearken to the song structures on Midnight Vultures - albeit with less body oils and raw sex appeal.
Going full circle Beck also revisits the early folk-blues that originally inspired him in his youth; laying down a menacing slide guitar and dusty harmonica on the spooky blues number "Farewell Ride," as well as offering up a slack-jawed 12-string guitar on "Emergency Exit."
Oddly enough, one of Beck's musical friends, Jack White (of the bass-less rock duo The White Stripes), delivers up a respectable bass on "Go It Alone," which compositionally sounds as if Beck took a White Stripes 45 and slowed it down to 33 rpm for inspiration.
For the first time in his career, rather than looking forward, Beck is taking a breather to reflect. But with his sights set on his own amazing back catalog rather than other trends of the day, it still ends up a surprising breath of fresh air from this unpredictable, offbeat artist.

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