The eighth album by Beck continues his musical evolution with a complicated, 14-song album which will variously delight, amaze, and confound listeners. He's got his usual fascinating melange of styles tossed in a blender, and poured out again into stylish containers.
The album reunites Beck with The Dust Brothers, who handled production on Odelay and Midnite Vultures, and the first song and debut single "E-Pro" seems pretty obviously to signal that the playful, big-beat rock of Odelay is back. With a rhythm sampled from the Beastie Boys' track "So What'cha Want," a heavy guitar riff, and a na-na-na chorus, many fans and critics started immediately hailing Guero as Odelay, Part 2.
Although a good number of Guero's songs have the rich experimentation of his earlier albums, Beck didn't completely abandon the straightforward directness of his last album, 2002's Sea Change, either. There's a moodiness and underlying ominousness running throughout Guero which tie the album more closely to Sea Change than to the 2-turntables-and-a-microphone-era Beck.
Despite the '80s beeps and chirps which begin the song "Girl" and the powerfully catchy melody, Beck's swimming in some bizarre undercurrents. "And I know I'm gonna make her die/Take her where her soul belongs," he sings. On the chorus, he alternates between singing "my summer girl" and "my cyanide girl," coyly substituting an ellipsis for the migratory word in the CD's lyric booklet.
Suffering a personal loss is a theme running throughout Guero. In the slow, atmospheric "Broken Drum," the song concludes with a repeated lament of "never forget you." "Missing" features acoustic guitar playing a stuttering repeated rhythm over light beats, while strings weave in and out behind the lyrics about people and things which are less than whole. "I prayed heaven today would bring its hammer down on me and pound you out of my head," he sings. "I can't think with you in it."
The album is not necessarily a downer, however; Beck does provides fun along the way. "Hell Yes" mixed a vocoded robot voice on the chorus and playful rapping with rhymes like "skeleton boys hyped up on purple/smoke rings blow from across the disco." And "Que Onda Guero" is a sonic portrait of the East L.A. neighborhood Beck grew up in.
It's odd that as a new father, Beck is so obsessed with darker themes on this record. Since his last record, Beck married actress Marissa Ribisi and they had gave birth to child Cosimo Henri.
Yet, beneath many of the upbeat flourishes lurks a dark skeleton. like on the big-beat single "E-Pro," he sings of "handing out a confection of venom" and notes that "there's too much left to taste that's bitter." And in the song "Farewell Ride," he's writing morbid lyrics like, "Two white horses in a line/carrying me to my burying ground/some may say this might be/your last farewell ride."
Guero is an album that bears repeated listens, and no doubt will be quite an onion to peel, layer-by-layer, for many months (and years) to come.