I expect Beck to challenge my musical horizons. And his newest and latest (number seven!) Guero (Spanish slang for white guy) is still a challenge but maybe not as much as I had expected. This is because most of these sounds have been heard before. Trace amounts of Midnight Vultures, Mutations, Mello Gold, and Golden Feelings can be found throughout the record. But the over representation of well-crafted, colorful beats sometimes makes Guero like an encore of Odelay.
Indeed, the Dust Brothers return to team up with Beck (as co-producers), and it shows. The Brothers Dust leave their grimy fingerprints all over backbeats on most tracks but on “QuÇ Onda Guero,” “Girl” and “Hell Yes” their work is most noticeable. Their signatures are most evident on “Hell Yes,” so much over that it sounds like an Odelay song pulled from mothballs.
Guero’s Latin influences are introduced early on “QuÇ Onda Guero.” “QuÇ Onda…,” a Latinized, rapped/sung, hipper, “Where It’s At,” is a fun song and one that demands a low-rider convertible and a summer breeze to be enjoyed fully. This song could be the next single after “E-Pro.” The Latin beats throughout Guero work as a fresh rock sound, and Beck plays with the style well. The flamenco guitars in “Missing” accents the album with an organic piece that helps break up the studio sound conjured by the Dust Brothers.
The true gems on this record exemplify an economy of sound found on “Black Tambourine” and “Scarecrow.” Initially sounding like a sample of Radiohead’s “National Anthem,” “Scarecrow” haunts using tambourines and an acoustic guitar without the overbearing spooky computers. Complete with beleaguered-sounding lyrics, “Scarecrow” is one of the darker songs on Guero, and it sets a mood in the listener better than every other song except “QuÇ Onda Guero.” “Scarecrow” makes me want to throw on a pair of shit kickers and ride to a saloon on my hoss so I can down a bunch of whiskey.
The best track on the album, “Black Tambourine,” is an oasis of minimalism that translates into a stripped down toe-tapper. All the instruments on the track never play all at once, neatly conversing with one another between verse and chorus. For one song on Guero, less is more.
More is less, though, on tepid tracks like “Earthquake Weather” and “Emergency Exit,” the final song. They both get lost in noise and maybe the flash of what the Dust Brothers can do. “Earthquake Weather” could be a decent song, but remixing might do it wonders.
I look to Beck for change because he does new sounds well. It turns out he does his old sounds well, too. So while Guero is no Odelay, even though it will inevitably draw comparisons, it stands up on its own latin-flavored feet nicely. Beck’s return to some of his roots is not tip-top but was missed and is welcome. The nice part about Guero is that a decent effort by Beck is still better than most artists’ best and accordingly stands out as one of the year’s quality records.