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Beck - Guero

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Artist: Beck

Album: Guero

Label: Geffen

Review date: May. 9, 2005

“Something always missing, always someone missing something,” Beck repeats listlessly over the fade-out of “Missing,” a phrase that sums up the overall anxt-ridden vibe of Guero. His 2002 effort, the darkly beautiful and spare Seachange, forsook his customarily post-modern genre-hodgepodge in favor of clarity, dividing critics over the seriousness of the venture. I found it moving and disturbing, with lyrics and arrangements complementing each other to produce a series of mature reflections on romantic disillusion.

Superficially, Guero returns to the ruts of “wheels of steel” sonic terror Odelay and rehashes Midnight Vultures’ laid-back funk, but the veil is thin. The lyrics are full of death, disease, of things gone wrong; even the catchiest up-tempo track, “Girl,” reeks of an enticing paranoia. Our subject's crooked walk down the beach finds her spitting in the sand “where their bones are bleaching.” In “Black Tambourine,” fire and wind might be able to kill what’s wrong, rescuing the protagonist from the broken-down buildings where she spends her nights shivering with her lover to keep warm. Another demention of human suffering, and accompanying nobility, is crystallized in “Earthquake Weather” – “I push, I pull, the days go slow into a void we fill with death…” The enforced manual labor of daily existence, here as in “Emergency Exit,” conjures visions of Tom Waits in moments of proletarian introspection, speaking to the maturity of Seachange, even to a revitalization of some morbid variety. Only “Que Onda Guero,” a scenically descriptive and streetwise romp, evokes the fun of Beck in the mid-’90s, and on repeated listening seems out of place.

The album’s biggest weakness lies in its arrangements. “Girl” sounds like a nervous take on Jan and Dean summer fun, kicked off with a Gameboy intro, and the juxtaposition of lyrics and music seems unproductively unsettling. The turntables on “Earthquake Weather” are forced, even unnecessary, and its repeated vocal snippets drive home the visions of decay too hard and too often. After “Hell Yes,” the music begins to fit the bleak lyrics a bit more comfortably, with “Broken Drum”'s resonance sweeps proving to be a mild distraction from what might have been the most beautifully wistful song here. The final tracks settle into a weary funk peppered with useless electronics, as if Beck is unwilling to forgo the signature traits he courageously shed on Seachange.

If Beck has any desire to match the stark and compelling intensity of his lyrics with timbre, he'd better take a tip from Waits and strip the arrangements down to the bare essentials; maybe then his increasingly bleak but unified vision will be realized, instead of a blur.

By Marc Medwin

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