Since his breakthrough release, 1996’s Odelay, Beck has carved out a nice niche for himself in the music world. Generally speaking, Beck cranks out ‘dancy’, sometimes mostly electronic pop tunes that are just accessible enough to catch on with the mainstream and just obscure enough so that the indie kids can enjoy him and not risk losing credibility.
His last couple of albums seem to have fallen under the radar. This is probably due to the fact that they lacked a breakout hit like “Where It’s At” from Odelay. Guero could change that, but not due to the strength of any one breakout hit. If Guero becomes a hit for Beck, it will probably be due to the fact that he has jumped on the garage rock band wagon.
Lo-fi crunchy rock is the hip thing to play these days, and Beck seems to be very conscious of that. The album’s leadoff track, “E-Pro”, driven by a trebly Rickenbacker bass line, would sound at home on any Franz Ferdinand or The Killers record.
There are other songs on the record that continue along in that vein, but about half of it goes off in a different direction. This other half continues with Beck’s trademark electro-pop sound, but slows down the tempo and the energy level considerably. Tracks like the mellow, countrified “Black Tambourine” are liable to induce more subdued head bobbing than dancing. “Go It Alone” is another languid, slow-paced song. It sounds like something Sublime may have written if they were still around. “Farewell Ride” combines the same sort of formula with a twangy, country guitar.
This isn’t to say that the whole album is slow and downbeat. “Que Onda Guero” is fast- paced and fun, with fast stream-of-consciousness lyrics reminiscent of Beck’s very first hit “Loser.”
Ultimately, however, the garage rock songs will not remedy the main problem with this album, which is the lack of a hit song. It is entirely possible to go through several listens of Guero and not become particularly attached to any tracks. It all sort of goes by in a blur, and not an altogether exciting one due to the rather subdued pace of most of it.
It is quite possible that Beck has been sort of left behind by the mainstream public, and this album will do nothing to change that. There is nothing essentially bad about Guero, it is just thoroughly unremarkable. Some of Beck’s bigger supporters will refer to Odelay as one of the seminal albums of the ’90s. While this is certainly up for heavy debate, there can be no denying that the album is fun, and a lot different than most of what was going on in mainstream music at the time. It is very hard to picture anyone at all saying that about Guero in 2005.
– Chuck DelRoss