Beck lets good times roll again, but not too much, on ‘Guero’

Andrew Hampp

Beck says sayonara sad songs and hello again computerized beats on his seventh album Guero, an album that is equal parts funky and melancholy. It’s the closest the 34-year-old musician has come to making a sequel to his 1996 opus Odelay, yet it’s far from a rehashing of old ideas.

For starters, there’s the notable lack of random, goofy lyrics featured so lovingly on previous efforts such as Mellow Gold, Midnite Vultures and the aforementioned Odelay. Beck is only at his most playful on “Que Onda Guero” (Spanish for “Where are you going, white boy?”), in which he sings, “Here comes the vegetable man / in the vegetable van / with the horn that’s honking like a mariachi band.”

But that’s not to say that Guero is not a fun album. On the contrary, the majority of the tracks here are real foot-stompers, such as first single “E-Pro,” the “Where It’s At”-esque “Hell Yes” and “Girl,” which gets this reviewer’s vote for “song of summer 2005.”

But even the more party-leaning tracks have grim elements to them, with more graveyard and bone references than you could shake a skeletal finger at. Although it would appear Beck is decidedly over the breakup that loomed over 2002’s gloomy Sea Change (he is now married to actress Marissa Ribisi and is the proud papa of a baby girl), he apparently has a newfound fixation on his own mortality.

The chorus for “Earthquake Weather,” for example, goes a little something like this: “I push, I pull / The days go slow / Into a void we filled with death.” Or “Farewell Ride,” in which Beck imagines his dead body will be carried by two white horses. The music may finally be more uppity, but the subject matter has only gotten bleaker.

But that’s why Guero ultimately succeeds as a whole. It is the first CD in Beck’s seven-album career that perfectly captures all the aspects of him fans have come to love rather than play host to one particular type of music. Contemplative love ballad a la Sea Change? See “Go It Alone.” Brazilian-inspired samba track reminiscent of “Tropicalia?” Check (“Missing”). Hand-clap heavy sing-along complete with robotic vocals on chorus? That’d be “Hell Yes.”

In short, Guero has something for virtually every Beck fan. It should’ve been called Every Guero.

Contact Pop Arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].