(Interscope; 2005)

By Peter Hepburn | 30 March 2005

I tried, I really did. I wanted to like--even love--Guero. I mean, shit, it’s Beck’s great reunion with the Dust Brothers (not counting Midnite Vultures). Certainly it couldn’t be worse than the Nigel Godrich straight-jacket that was Sea Change, right? Right?

Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t close. Guero strikes me more than anything as the sound of Beck, one of the most versatile and least definable musicians of his generation, hitting the creative wall. I’m not going to fault Guero for it’s sequencing—Beck albums have never been laid out well—but it’s the pure rehashing that is inexcusable.

Lets break it down by album. “E-Pro,” “Que Onda Guero,” “Go it Alone,” “Black Tambourine,” “Rental Car,” “Scarecrow,” and “Emergency Exit” could all be Odelay b-sides (okay, in a pinch “Que Onda Guero” might be able to make it on the actual album). After that the songs are like Odelay taking on Beck’s other albums: “Missing” is Odelay vs. Mutations; “Hell Yes” is half way between Odelay and Midnite Vultures (and less fun than either); there’s a clear Sea Change influence on “Broken Drum; ” and “Farewell Ride” has the sort of dark apocalyptic vision of a One Foot in the Grave. The one song that doesn’t immediately make sense in the context of Beck’s back catalogue is “Girl.” It certainly does most clearly resemble Andre 3000’s “Hey Ya!” but the simple, fuzzed out background instrumental is Beck’s best use of his gameboy to date.

I should make it clear that if these songs were as good as the originals, I wouldn’t have nearly as many complaints. “E-Pro” is not “Devil’s Haircut” in just the same way that “Missing” is not “Tropicalia;” neither match up, or even come all that close, to their forbearer. The Dust Brothers try their hardest, but it just feels stale and repetitive even within the album. “Black Tambourine” and “Scarecrow” run together in my mind, and the by the last two songs I find myself too bored to even try and figure out why they put “Rental Car” on the album (it wasn’t the instrumental and it sure as hell wasn’t the lyrics, so then why?). By my count, eight of the 13 tracks on the album involve handclaps. That’s overkill.

There are a few songs that buck the trend. “Farewell Ride” is great --- hands down the best thing on the record and, from where I stand, the best song from Beck in seven years. The song captures some of that early darkness that Beck effortlessly threw forth on One Foot in the Grave and even moments of Stereopathic Soul Manure, but ups the production levels and sonic palette. It’s also one of the few well-written songs on Guero, which is again disappointing considering Beck has proven himself a more than capable lyricist in the past. There are also moments of “Rental Car,” namely the great vocal sample the Dust Brothers throw down, that aren’t too painful, and Jack White’s bass line on “Go It Alone” is slinkier than most will expect.

I’ve been a Beck fan for years. One Foot in the Grave and Mutations are my favorites, and I still feel that both, especially the former, are criminally overlooked. Beck had originality, vision and talent in spades, but after Mutations, it's hard not to wonder what exactly is happening. Midnite Vultures might have been fun the first few times through, and can still move a party in a pinch, but I never feel the need to throw it on and actually listen to it. Opinions on Sea Change differ, but I can’t understand how people could honestly embrace an album that was so homogenous, whiny and overwrought.

Then we get Guero. If this record had come out in ’94 it would have been groundbreaking. ’98 and it would have been good. But it’s ’05 now, and there aren’t many reasons to be impressed. At least Sea Change was something new.