One has to wonder what the purpose is of reviewing the new Beck album. Everybody knows who he is. Everybody already knows whether or not they’re going to pick it up. Everybody either loves him or has an ambivalent stance about his music. Nobody really hates Beck. I just don’t see it happening. He makes super-catchy party jams and we all smile. He makes sad, achingly gorgeous folk and we all weep along with him. And when he mixes up psychedelic, world-weary rock like on Mutations, my personal favorite of his, we’re all astounded at how he manages to re-invent himself time and time again. So how has he done it this time?
Ah, I see you’re still reading. That’s good. It means this wasn’t all for naught…I mean, I know I can ramble and you might not have the longest attention span, but…wait! Come back! I promise I’ll get to my point, which is that Beck hasn’t so much re-invented himself on Guero as he has revisited the dance-friendly kitchen sink pop of Odelay. I mean, he teamed up with the Dust Brothers again, for one thing. And even the title is similar. For those unfamiliar with the Spanish language, guero essentially translates to “white guy,” while “orale,” which was what Odelay was supposed to be titled, is a Mexican slang catch-all, somewhere between “hey” and “right on.”
But see, Guero is new, and because of this fun fact, it’s sounds fresh. It might not tread any particularly new ground. It doesn’t at all, really. It’s more or less the kind of thing we’d expect from Beck — what we should expect from Beck. The first single, “E-Pro,” rocks hard, blowing the speakers out in record Hansen speeds, even more so than “Sexxlaws” or “Devil’s Haircut.” It’s heavy on the distorted guitar samples, and even resorts to a wordless chorus of “na-na-na-na.” “Que Onda Guero,” by comparison, sounds like an Odelay outtake, but has its share of charm as Beck inserts samples of Spanish phrases spoken between verses. And then there’s “Girl,” an electro-folk track that sounds a little like “Hey Ya,” but not so much that it’s annoying. And “Missing” takes on a Latin jazz sound that might have been more characteristic of his style-bending on Mutations.
But all in all, this is yet another party record by one of the only artists to be accepted as part of the mainstream and part of the indie hipster circle as well. “Black Tambourine” has a nice bass groove. “Earthquake Groove” loops an acoustic guitar sample while Beck approaches one of his most mainstream pop sounding choruses. “Hell Yes” is electroclash g-funk, “Broken Drum” is beat-friendly indie pop and “Farewell Ride” is Atari Planet Rock, for lack of a real term.
Beck isn’t necessarily surprising anyone here. He’s doing what he knows how to do best: make idiosyncratic and fun sampladelic pop. And you made it all this way through the review to, basically, be told what you had already expected all along. But don’t feel as if you wasted your time. It is a good record, for those who haven’t heard it yet, and sometimes it feels good to be reassured of our own suspicions now and then.
Beck – Midnite Vultures
Beta Band – Heroes to Zeroes
Eels – Daisies of the Galaxy
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.