BECK

Guero (Interscope)

Courtesy Nasty Little ManWHATTHEYSAY:"Beck quit being weird and just remade Odelay, except not quite as well. That's . . . cool."

WHATWESAY:There issomething incestuous there if you shuffle tracks from Odelayand Guerotogether—it's sort of a fraternal-twins-holding-hands feel, though Guerowipes away Odelay's fuzzball lo-fi charm for a deeper, cleaner, car-stereo-friendly sound. But the lazy-ol'-Beck story isn't really right, though he did make a mistake by releasing an album that doesn't get past his greatest hits, which is the same reason most people don't really care to own more than one or two Ramones albums. Radio single "E-Pro" has the same guts as "Devil's Haircut" or "Where It's At," which is to say, it's the signature Beck sound: stoner beats and stoner guitar, combined into the most perfect stoner music that isn't from Kingston or Birmingham, which is how he got so big. It's a very versatile aesthetic, and people are complaining that he didn't really do enough with it on Guero, though songs like "Girl" (with a catchy trick count on the chorus) and "Que Onda Guero" (one of those Lou-Reed-singing-what-he-sees-out-his-window songs relocated for a view of Highland Park) aren't anything more offensive than Beck just pushing all the correct buttons. But between Guero's obvious tracks are over-the-shoulder nods at Kraftwerk (the robo-beat on "Scarecrow") or Eno ("Broken Drum" has WarmJetson turntable one and BeforeandAfterScienceon turntable two) or even (unhappily) yuppo gallery muzak like Portishead ("Missing," which sounds like Beck rapping over an Infiniti commercial once it pops through the minute mark: string section ordrum machine, but not both at once, right?). But even though these aren't his traditional components, they still sound natural once he runs them through the Beck-o-plex. So is this a guy who can't break out of a sound, or is this a guy who can break his sound into anything? Because you just can't win once you push into a big audience: give them something new and they get angry; give them what they want and they get bored. It's interesting that our man Jack White cameos a bass line on "Go It Alone"—a tight little track: the JBs rhythm section with a thumb on the turntable—because Beck is currently one step ahead of the White Stripes in the huge-but-how-to-handle-it? part of his career. They both invented a sound on a low-pressure indie, glossed off all the dust for a fancy major-label mega debut, and then found they couldn't get away from the shtick they'd created. Next step: the panic album. That would be Beck's actually excellent SeaChange—his most coherent record yet, as well as a sleeper template for all the indie rock bands that are getting famous now—and the Stripes' half-finished homework assignment GetBehindMeSatan, which a confused public is already gracefully about to forget. So pushing on, we get Guero, the evident return to normal, which makes us due for Elephant2in 2007. At worst, Guerodemonstrates how familiar Beck is with his own sound—that doesn't seem like much, maybe, but musicians who don't understand exactly what they're doing don't last very long, unless they're Lou Reed and everyone is afraid of them. The slow growers on Gueromean that the brave old Beck is still in there somewhere, heading for the really good part of his career where all the flakes drop away and he's left with the faithful, who trust him enough to do anything.

BESTPART:"Andale, joto, your popsicle's melting!"

BECK PLAYS WITH THE DECEMBERISTS AT THE PACIFIC AMPHITHEATRE, ORANGE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS, 100 FAIR DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 740-2000; <A

 
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