Music Reviews

Beck Guero

(Interscope) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Beck Hansen is a very difficult man to pigeonhole. Whilst nearly every artist around his age and at his stage in their career seem very happy to just sit back and watch the mortgage repayments flow in by releasing album-after-album of identikit dross, at least he's got the guts to play with the formula, and take the odd chance sonically. He's also very lucky to have such a loyal fan base, who have grown up with him, and know him well enough to expect a creative U-turn every now and then. Other fans aren't quite so tolerant. Imagine (for instance) if Morrissey had come back with an album full of bed-wetting gangsta rap fused with Gregorian chanting, pan pipes and the nose flute? Would his die-hard fans have saluted his sheer musical intrepidness in trying something new? No, they'd have killed him (or at least slapped him around the face with a marigold). Which is why you've got to salute somebody like Beck; at least he's not afraid to be a little selfish when it comes to making music. He's always willing to explore new avenues in sound. But is that the case this time around? After all, since when has an artist ever remained relevant after 10+ years in the industry?

If you could make comparisons between Guero and any other record in Beck's canon, I suppose that it's nearest bedfellow would be Odelay. Recent single E-Pro kicks off the album in fine style, sounding like a mutated Soulwax rampaging through California dressed as Leadbelly with a rocket up it's arse, a multicoloured sonic delight which amounts to his best single in absolutely ages, and fills you with optimism for what lies ahead. And whilst this is not necessarily A Bad Thing, I can't help but think that Beck's committed the cardinal sin of placing his strongest song at the start of the album, as so much of the album fails to keep up in terms of pace and quality. You can't help but feel that by returning to work with The Dust Brothers (the production team behind the now-legendary Odelay), who are as much responsible for some of his weakest tracks as they are for some of his strongest, he's taken a step into what is alien territory for an artist of his scope and originality. Has Beck Hansen finally entered The Comfort Zone? Whilst there are plenty of sparkling pop moments on the album (the dreamy West Coast acoustica of Girl and Broken Drum; the uptight hip-hop skank of Hell Yes), the overwhelming feeling that pervades the album is of an artist comfortable with his own existence, and comfortable with his own little niche. And whilst it doesn't make Guero a bad album (quite the opposite in fact), it certainly means that from now on a new Beck album will not be greeted as some form of counter-cultural event. It'll just be another good album from an established and well-loved artist who made some classic records in the mid-to-late 90's.

Guero is a record with lots of great ideas and some very good songs, and a lot of other artists would give their back teeth (and their back catalogue) for the talent and musical ingenuity that Beck has continued to display over his many years in the industry, but I can't help thinking that there's just something missing from this release. It remains a very good album, but you always get that sense that he's always just one chord progression away from greatness this time around. Pleasant? Yes. Fun? Yes. Groundbreaking? Sadly not, but there's still just enough there to keep you interested.