1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (2005 edition)
en: Guero [info]
As is traditional with Beck reviews, it should be noted that no, the new album Guero is not like 2002's Sea Change, his last. Guero is his sixth major-label album, and it sees the return of previous production collaborators Tony Hoffer (Midnite Vultures) and the Dust Brothers (Midnite Vultures, Odelay). If it's not like Sea Change, then given the personnel you might assume that Guero is following an interrupted trajectory back onto the dancefloor. You'd be half right.
If anything, this is a return to the swagger of Midnite Vultures and Odelay, but it's not a copy. Almost ten years on from Odelay, Guero has more assurance than its swaggering predecessors. The opener and current single, "E-Pro", sets out Beck's store pretty effectively: swagger, funk, breaks, and the first signs of the latin flavour which colours the whole album. 'Que Onda, Guero?' (Where you going, White Boy?) is a good question; the answer, it seems, is wherever he wants. Guero is quite a ride.
Beck hasn't forgotten Sea Change by any means; not the feel of it, nor the production approach. "Broken Drum", particularly, has echoes of the melancholy and careful, bare arrangement from Sea Change. But even at the point of closest approach there's been forward motion: distorted guitars and crunched percussion play off the backbone of piano and acoustic guitar.
In fact, the whole album is a move forward. Even at its most raucous ("Chain Reaction" gets pretty shouty), things are more restrained, while the production is more adventurous, with richer textures and arrangements. This is an album covering a fair amount of ground, taking in breaks and funk at one end, through infectious pop and out to the kind of noise that's somewhere on the path to post-rock.
Guero, then, is something of a coming together of Beck's various stylistic forays, making use of all the tricks he's picked up along the way. It's a good mix, and a grower. Ten years on, and Beck's in rude health and definitely on form.