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ISSUE 118 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/8/2005

Beck returns to his rock roots

By Byron Vierk
Staff Writer

Friday, April 8, 2005

There are very few artists today whom Beck can consider his peers. Compared to Bob Dylan, Prince, The Beatles and other such monoliths of the industry, Beck still stands alone as one of the most unique artists of our time. He evolves nearly seamlessly from album to album, each time presenting a new and unique vision. It is ironic to discover, then, that Beck’s newest effort sounds more like a blast from his slacker past, only slightly-updated and more intrepidly sung.

Beck’s latest release, Guero, is the same kind of stylistic grab bag that made his 1995 breakthrough Odelay such a unique and fun album; Guero bounces from ‘70s retro-rock to techno-hop with effortless glee. Beck clearly has a lot more fun here than on his last album, the dirge-fest that was 2002’s Sea Change. The first three tracks on Guero are a breath of fresh air, a declaration from the artist that his dark days have passed, however slightly. “E-Pro,” the album’s driving first single, is classic “Devil’s Haircut”-style Beck, complete with a “na-na” chorus and deep fuzz bass. The next track, “Que Onda Guero,” finds Beck awash in Latin rhythm and language, accompanied by often-hilarious spoken commentary.

Despite the album’s other fantastic, upbeat songs, the truly shining moments are more soulful and introspective. The album’s epic midpoint comes with the wildly creative, dark bossa nova of “Earthquake Weather.” The song is the story of a life gradually falling apart at the seams, with every struggle bringing down the proverbial walls of safety like a tiny earthquake. The imagery is haunting and perfectly bolstered by a nearly hypnotic, drifting guitar riff.

The high point of the album is the Burt Bacharach-tinged “Missing,” a complex, multilayered song featuring Beck’s voice prominently and beautifully. More than anything, the song demonstrates the marked improvement in Beck’s vocal ability since his super-slacker debut album more than a decade ago. The lyrics are airtight as always, and Beck uses his command of language with weightless ease. The last minute of “Missing” features a tongue-twisting abstract mantra which ranks among the most dynamic performances of Beck’s nearly 20-year career and caps perhaps the best opening salvo of songs from any Beck album.

Overall, Guero isn’t the kind of monumental evolution in sound that one would expect of an eclectic artist like Beck, and on that level, it has to be seen as a small disappointment. However, the album serves as a welcome reminder of Beck’s mastery of musical art and offers up several truly melodic gems. Guero’s greatest strength is that it is more purely “Beck” than anything he has done since Odelay. While it’s much more than an Odelay clone, Guero does, at times, resemble its now-classic predecessor. Thankfully for Beck, the resemblance is almost always positive.

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