More than a decade since “Loser” and Mellow Gold brought his name to the masses, Beck remains a critics’ darling, releasing dynamic albums that sometimes seem to get too many easy compliments from the writers. Nonetheless, for his latest album, Guero, Beck genuinely deserves the glowing feedback he has received. Guero is Beck’s most enjoyable long-player because it doesn’t pretend to be more than what it is: a fun collection of disparate, delicious songs. With its blend of genres and moods, Guero flows like a mix album put together by a walking, breathing music encyclopedia for a select group of friends.
The first track and lead-off single, “E-Pro,” has crunching guitars and pounding drums that surround Beck’s military-like vocal efficiency. This thunderous opener also benefits from a sample of Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want.” Some of the tracks on Guero find Beck in more of a rap mode, and his reunion with The Dust Brothers as producers surely has a lot to do with “Qué Onda Guero” and “Hell Yes” recalling the early 90s work of Young MC, another artist who collaborated with The Dust Brothers. While “Qué Onda Guero” features urban Spanish elements, “Hell Yes” makes attractive use of a vocoder and female pleas.
Guero changes pace across most of its songs, but the track progression is never jarring. Beck smoothly moves from “Qué Onda Guero” to the basic, youthful 70s pop of “Girl.” He digs into the classics and combines a sample of the Brazilian “Voce e Eu” with strings on the sexy “Missing.” Frequent Beastie Boys contributor Money Mark plays his slinky, swirling organ to perfection on the buoyant, quirky “Earthquake Weather.” This song is another opportunity for Beck to demonstrate his excellent taste in choosing the right sample; “Earthquake Weather” fuses The Temptations and Slave with a 21st century recording.
The second half of Guero is more subdued and benefits from beautiful, quieter compositions by Beck. On “Broken Drum,” he plays all of the instruments and envelopes his gorgeous, melancholic voice with slow piano and sporadic strumming of his acoustic guitar. The lyrics match the stark melody: “I see you there / Your long black hair / Your eyes just stair / Your mind is turning / You know I’ll laugh / And I won’t take it back / I’ve seen your eyes / I know what you’re thinking.” Beck discusses death and burial in a southern style through the grinding “Farewell Ride” and closes Guero with religious references in the country-fried “Emergency Exit.”
Guero is an album of multiple appeals; it calms, invigorates, rhythmically guides a party, and serves as a warm aural backdrop for urban commutes and country drives. Beck and his companions have crafted an eclectic mix of sounds and images, drawing inspiration from various decades and styles. Guero should earn Beck new fans and significantly impress even devoted listeners of the past dozen years.