Beck’s Guero: back to mischievous business

Beck - GueroTo ignore that his previous album, Sea Change, illustrated a particularly sad period of Beck’s life would have required heavy doses of deafness. So, you knew. Luckily for him, our favorite genius is back and smiling again, and so are we.

Guero still features some sadness in his voice, but he uses it as a basis for a new maturity, a welcome serenity after the melancholy that beautifully irradiated Sea Change. It has been said that the present album marks the return to his early style from the Odelay period; it is not exactly true. Obviously, it feels more free and confident, but not half as crazy as it used to. Nevertheless, the mood is definitely more playful this time.

The sentimental issues that brought him down seem long forgotten as he now speaks about girls with casualness, if not cynicism. On Girl, love has become a game, not only because of the gameboy-sounding intro, but also the joyful lyrics demonstrating a renewed confidence.

And who else than Beck could dedicate a song to his tambourine? On Black Tambourine, the instrument sounds as if it was singing with him and dancing with the guitar solo. It comes back on Scarecrow too, a highlight of the album that sounds as much as a mockery of death as a dry ballad in the desert.

Mind you, Beck has not forgotten his past: Missing feels like a subtle merge between Tropicalia and Paper Tiger. No matter where he goes, we will always be able to track down his evolution.

This time, the ambiance is a mix of rock, folk and beat-based loops. It ranges from beckish hip-hop (Hell Yes) to distorted, noisy garage rock anthems (E-Pro). And what about a gorgeous death-obsessed blues ride (Farewell Ride)? All in all, it sounds like he went back to his living room to record his new take on music. It probably sounds more heterogeneous than Sea Change, but the exquisite balance of instruments and sounds makes it homogeneous nonetheless.

The result is a somewhat minimal ambiance, as opposed to the broad soundscapes featured on his recent records. He plays most of the instruments himself, apart from some old friends helping here and there, and discreet guest appearances such as Jack White’s great bass line on Go It Alone.

The other clear change is the absence of Nigel Goldrich, the magic producer of all his recent albums. Guero marks the return of the Dust Brothers, with whom Beck had worked on Odelay. Once again, they crafted “dusty”, scratchy beats and rhythms, whereas Beck is back to rough electric guitars, miles away from their airy counterparts on Sea Change. The sound is not crystal clear anymore, more abrasive instead. Not that any Beck fan would mind…

In Beck’s already impressively rich career, Guero is as evolutionary as Sea Change was revolutionary. Beck has never been truer to himself, and he is ready to rock.