Beck - Guero


Beck's back and once again he's in new clothes.



Beck. He's a card. Bit of a strange lad that one and almost impossible to define musically. I think most music journo's decided to call him 'indie' because you can lump anybody into that bracket. But what genre or musical cubby hole can we place him in? Is he hip-hop? Is he rock? Is he pop? Is he a folk musician? Is he funk? He's Beck and he's a genius, just leave it at that. Fuck brackets. Beck's always done his own thing and I suggest you all just accept it. (You other music journalists that is, his fans couldn't give a hoot what genre you try and place him in!)


In a sense, Beck is the new Neil Young and I say that not because he sounds like Neil Young (far from it) but because the only thing you can guarantee with Beck is that his next album will always be very different to his last. Some people have described him as an 'artist's artist', which is the same moniker that The Beta Band were lumped with. By artist's artist they mean that he's a very gifted, exceptional musician who influences and inspires his peers but doesn't have the fanatical following of some bigger selling artists. Well, that's a good thing! You won't find Beck being a part of a 'scene', but you'll often find a scene spring up behind him. A lot of pop artists try to keep their careers on track by working with who's popular and 'in' at that moment. It's like they're always trying to say, "I'm still relevant. I'm still important. I'm still hip!" Of course, anybody that thinks they're still 'hip' obviously isn't and should be forced into retirement immediately as far as I'm concerned. Think Madonna, think Michael Jackson, think Kylie Minogue, think Tom Jones even. Beck hasn't done that. In fact, he's almost gone out of his way to make albums that sound absolutely nothing like what's in vogue at their time of release. I admire him for that, but to be honest, that would count for nothing if the albums he made were shit, but they aren't. They're excellent.


Looking outside the popular radar is a good thing, but you have to be careful with it. As Neil Young fans will tell you, the results of an artist carving out his own path can be exhilarating (Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere) or they can be absolutely terrifying (Landing On Water). I love that feeling I get when I pick up a new Beck album, when I cast my eyes over the new packaging and can tell, instantly, that I've got to prepare myself for something completely different. It's an exciting, but daunting moment.


Open the sleeve (wonderfully crafted by artist Marcel Dzama) and place that little round disc into the slot. Push that button marked with a little triangle and take that deep breath. Is this going to be something special, or is this going to be Beck's Landing On Water? (God forbid) Prepare yourselves people, for Guero is here....


...and Landing On Water this ain't! Within seconds you'll be instantly transported into a place where Beck's last album, the marvelously downbeat and heartbroken Sea Change has long been forgotten. E-Pro bursts into life with a crunchy guitar riff that will make you smile instantly, but then you'll notice that it is repeated endlessly throughout and after a while you'll think it's about time it changed a little but then, after a few minutes, you'll really get into it again and once your brain is well and truly under its spell and your feet start tapping in time to the pounding beat that lies behind it the riff will just.


Stop dead.


It's a cracking opening track. Beck's back and once again he's in new clothes. So what's he been up to since we last heard from him? If Que Ondo Guero is anything to go by he's been taking a hit from the bong and hanging out on Cypress Hill learning Spanish. It's a tune that seems to be designed for those car stereos that lie inside those big Yankee cars that bounce up and down a lot in rap videos. Don't worry, it should sound just as good in your Volkswagen Golf as you're driving along the Strand in Zandvoort. Once that's out of the way, Beck does a quick costume change and reappears fronting Grandaddy for Girl, which has hit single written all over it. Sexy, catchy and absolutely delightful from start to finish. After saying goodbye to Grandaddy he heads off to a 1960's cocktail party in New York and starts entertaining people with stories from the Arabian Nights. A cross between The Girl From Iponema and the theme from Aladdin, Missing is a gem and should be accompanied by a dry Martini.


Wash that down before things start to get a little more exciting. Black Tambourine is just outstanding. Drums pound and crash. Tambourines rattle and shake. Hands clap and Beck raps over the top of them all. There's a bit of Graham Coxon style guitar in here too. Just try not dancing round your living room to this. I dare ya! Beck's producers the Dust Brothers (who fans will remember from the duty roster of Odelay) work wonders with Earthquake Weather. You've just got to love that Isley Brothers style guitar solo! You know, like when the Isley Brothers were all funky and sexy and political back in the seventies and before they started warbling on with R Kelly in an attempt to show that they were still hip. This is another cocktail party song, but this time the party's taking place round the pool of some large mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Beautiful people only need apply.


Hell Yes will make you want to dig out those old Grandmaster Flash and Dougie Fresh tapes, take the laces out of your trainers and start spinning around the kitchen lino on your head. If you can remember 1983 that is.


Broken Drum takes a left at the traffic lights and ends up in Ry Cooder's driveway sipping a beer and remembering lost loved ones. It'll bring a tear to your eye. Scarecrow is the kind of slow burning, sexy indie tune that Blur got very good at just before Graham Coxon jumped ship and Go It Alone is so good it'll make you feel a bit better about losing The Beta Band.


Farewell Ride is a brilliant death march. It'll make you think of handcuffs, chains and death row inmates, what with a drum beat that sounds like a chain gang breaking rocks and a tune that's carried by a sloppy blues guitar that bends every note just to help build the tension. Marvelous stuff. This almost feels out of place on Guero, as it's really dark, but it is one of the most atmospheric songs I've ever heard from Beck.


Rental Car. What can I say about Rental Car? Imagine Beethoven and The Byrds making a soundtrack to a 1960's German porn movie. You figure it out if you can, if not just sit back and enjoy. It'll get your blood pumping. Emergency Exit is a story told by a wise Indian chief to a depressed, guitar playing cowboy whilst UFO's hover overhead monitoring the cattle population. Or something like that.


Send a Message to Her will make everybody pogo up and down at every festival Mr Hansen decides to play this summer. Catchy guitar hook, na na na vocal, tub thumping drums and plenty of handclaps, this could well be the sound of the summer. Outstanding. Chain Reaction brings this version of Guero to a close with a track that is the sound of the Flaming Lips producing the Beastie Boys. Hilarious but undeniably entertaining and that is that.


All that remains to say is that this is a cracking album and if you're planning on having any fun at all this summer, this should be part of your collection. Beck's often been criticized for not letting his feelings and emotions out, but he sorted all that out with Sea Change. Now that he's happy again, he's back to the being the fun loving weirdo we all loved. And hooray for that! Now all I've got to do is go out and buy the special edition, which comes with more tracks and a dvd. Ooh how nice.


Words : Damian Leslie