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    Mon, 28 Mar 2005 17:50:54

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    Album Reviews: Guero by Beck

    It's impossible to talk about Beck's new album without lots of references to his breakthrough 1996 set, Odelay. Guero reunites Beck for the first time with Odelay producers The Dust Brothers, and uses very much the same blueprint as its predecessor, channel surfing through musical genres like an insomniac hunting for a good late-night movie. Many critics, in fact, have already been quick to write off Guero -- named after a Mexican slang term for "white boy" -- as an Odelay retread, a good but pale imitation of that groundbreaking work.

    While it's fair to say that there's nothing here as innovative as tracks like "Where It's At" or "Novacane," it would be a mistake to dismiss this as a simple rehash. As great as Odelay was, you could often hear Beck trying too hard to be outrageous, straining to shake the one-hit "Loser" tag that dogged him after Mellow Gold first put him on the mainstream radar. Guero, by contrast, sounds effortless. Still only 33 years old, Beck is now such an accomplished songwriter that he can shuffle around his many influences -- lo-fi hip-hop, coffeehouse folk, psychedelic rock, Delta blues -- without making you feel like he's showing off. It's just brilliant, offbeat, infectious and insanely well-crafted pop music -- the perfect soundtrack to the 21st century's crazy-quilt, culture-clash urban landscapes, like that of Beck's native Los Angeles.

    Highlights? Where to start? The spooky samba of "Missing," on which Beck splices the DNA of "Tropicalia" and "Paper Tiger" to mesmerizing effect? The irresistible, bluesy groove of "Scarecrow"? The even more irresistible groove, courtesy of Jack White's swaggering bassline, on "Go It Alone"? The urban clatter and mariachi hip-hop of "Que Onda Guero"? These and half a dozen other Guero tracks are denser, smarter and funkier than anything else you'll hear this year. If this is the sound of Beck retracing his steps, then I say let him keep dancing in circles. Nobody's been able to cop his moves yet. - Andy Hermann

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