Bend it like Beck
Beck's last LP 2002's "Sea Change" was something of a sombre listen. Melancholic, downbeat and introspective, it dispensed with the freewheeling junkyard beats he made his name with and replaced them with something altogether more skeletal and intimate. Guero doesn't completely ditch this approach but it does revisit the genre straddling adventures of the past with a vengeance and suggests that what ever black cloud he was sitting under has partly dispersed. The Dust Brothers who worked on Odelay are back in the production seat too, bringing their own unique sense of play to Beck's warped funk fuelled rhythms. The results in places are stunning.
The catchiest and weakest track opens things : "E-Pro". Although energized by a raging Led Zeppelin propulsion and rolled along with cavernous beats, you get the impression that it's trying too hard to be overtly single material and thus sounds slightly forced. The magic of the rest of the LP though lies in the deft changes of direction the funk takes, twisting, morphing and weaving from one style to the next with consummate ease and proving that no one is as successful at fusing disparate influences into a coherent whole as Mr Hanson. In the space of three songs 3 different continents are visited : "Que Onda Guero" is, as the name suggests, South American tinged, "Missing" has a Middle Eastern lilt and "Black Tambourine" is African flavoured .
Elsewhere "Earthquake Weather" melds a Steely Dan type jazz rhythm with a 70's funk pulse, and "Go it alone" is a lo-fi shuffle that features a certain Jack White on bass. Both are bolted together by Beck's unmistakable abstruse approach to beat construction that consistently finds the swing in the most unobvious of places.
"Broken drum" is the high spot : a sublimely blissed out lullaby to loss with echoes of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross and a hint of Brian Eno listening to it is akin to floating on a cotton wool cloud with a head full of Xanax. It easily one of Beck's most accomplished moments.
"Hell Yes" is a very close second : broken hip hop beats, spannered harmonica, electro flourishes, robo vocoder, insanely funky bassline and heart skippingly cute female vocal snatches. Again its up there with his best and really should be the next single.
Guero is a progression in that it's the first time Beck has blended the two distinct areas of his craft together on one LP: the freaked out with the low-key. This diversity adds depth and makes for a more rewarding listen and considering his previous works haven't exactly been missing these elements it's a progression that really pushes his musical explorations to impressive new heights.