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Don't Forget to Pick Up What You Sow

 

Beck: Guero

Interscope, 2005

Rating: 3.4

 

Posted: March 30, 2005

By Laurence Station

Beck’s albums have rarely been well-sequenced. On a brilliantly scattershot release like Odelay, sequencing hardly matters. On the equally scattershot but considerably less successful Guero, it simply amplifies a frustrating sense that a really great album could have been assembled from the assorted bits and pieces. Worse, three of Guero’s best songs don’t even appear on the standard-issue, 13-track release. The nimble, “Devil’s Haircut”-aping “Send A Message To Her,” the raucously loose “Chain Reaction” and the uninhibited digital funk-fest “Clap Hands” are only available to those who pony up the extra shekels for the deluxe version. Guero is all over the map but the majority of its detours simply aren’t worth the trip.

Not that Beck and primary Odelay collaborators The Dust Brothers misfire horrendously. If anything, there’s a retrospectively safe, “sounds like something Beck would do” vibe throughout. “Girl” is a more user-friendly “New Pollution.” The hook isn’t nearly as strong, but the sunnily upbeat tune provides disposable pop with a distinctly Beck-ian slant. “Earthquake Weather” is an unfinished holdover from the Midnite Vultures sessions that languidly addresses “space ships” and “purple skies” but without the P-Funk energy to take it anywhere useful. “Farewell Ride” and “Emergency Exit” show off Beck’s folksy blues influence, but neither rises to the playfully pleading level of “Lord Only Knows.”

Though lacking the punch of lead track “E-Pro,” the better constructed “Scarecrow,” with its funky beat and shuffling groove, certainly deserves an earlier appearance than ninth in the queue. The preceding, elegant “Broken Drum” (co-produced by Tony Hoffer) is another strong cut that arrives too late in the mix to counterbalance the comparatively weak material populating the first half. The bossa nova-flavored “Missing” and the tribal drumbeat-driven “Black Tambourine” are solid enough numbers, but the vocoder and harmonica piece “Hell Yes” is a doomed dance misstep that includes the bafflingly dreadful, Jay-Z knockoff line “Fax machine anthems get your damn hands up” and elicits images of Dilbert and his fellow office workers doing the robot (badly).

Guero (which apparently is Spanish slang for “white boy”) is the first Beck album that doesn’t surprise you. Detractors may harp on Sea Change’s fun-free, late-night-drive moroseness, but it certainly sounded like no other release in the stylistically hyper-curious artist’s catalog. The same can be said for the vivid yet lyrically dark popcraft of Mutations and the wildly hit-or-miss, spastic sonic experimentalism of Stereopathetic Soul Manure. Guero incorporates aspects of a whole body of work. In this respect, it’s not so different from the last Radiohead album. But Guero’s hooks aren’t as strong as those of earlier Beck songs. And for all the early hype about a return to the high-energy, pre-Millennial Beck of Odelay, Guero is more Diet Rite than Red Bull.

Regarding the standard-versus-deluxe pocketbook conundrum, Guero is one instance where the expanded edition (including the obligatory “Take that, filesharers!” DVD) is the best bet. With seven additional tracks (four of which are so-so remixes), Guero Deluxe is the easy candidate for those so inclined to rip and re-sequence the ingredients into a more appealing mix. But the bigger issue here is that buyers shouldn’t have to go to such lengths to tease out a solid Beck album.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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