We can recall quite vividly a day in 1994 when boyish Beck took the stage at a giant summer festival to what was then probably the largest crowd he had ever played. The screaming fans of the slacker generation were dying with anticipation to see the new star “get crazy with the cheez whiz.” Instead stood a man who seemed uncomfortable with his newfound pop success who violently threw a harmonica into the masses whose unquestioning devotion seemed to make him cringe. This was a guy who would never pop out albums based on some previous formula of success but would continuously show a new side of himself, making sure the crowds knew just who they were really cheering for.
Now, for the first time, Beck has finally done what we didn’t expect him to. He released the prototypical Beck album. Such a thing never really existed before as he genre hopped from the mashed up sound of Odelay to the coked-up tongue in cheek party album of Midnite Vultures, to the most recent lush and somber sounds of Sea Change. But with his new album, Guero, we see him returning to the sounds of Odelay, the album that won the critics over and proved he was more than just the one hit wonder of Mellow Gold.
Bringing back the production team of the Dust Brothers, the one's responsible for much of Odelay’s sound, Guero comes off as reminder to all of what the true essence of Beck is. It’s the mash up of folk, pop, hip-hop, country, blues, and rock that led many to call Beck the future of music during his hayday in the mid nineties. But Guero is not Odelay pt. II. Gone are his silly lyrics and the manic energy that made young Beck such a thrill. These songs are simpler but more fully realized. This is the sound of a calmer and more mature man with a family realizing his legacy. No longer does he feel the need to cram a thousand ideas into a single song. He seems content to finally fully flesh out an idea and show us how well he has honed his skills as an artist.
Whether you view this as a return to form or as a bit of a step backwards probably depends on how fondly you remember the nineties. Gothamist, for one, is happy to see that the man who threw that harmonica so many years ago finally seems to have faith that the people cheering for him are doing it for the right reasons. It makes us happy to see Beck content and without the need to constantly reinvent himself, well, only as long as he doesn’t make a habit of it. A little change is good every now and then.
Guero was released yesterday.
Beck will make his 9th appearance on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic this Thursday, March 31st at 11:15am, playing cuts off Guero with the band. You can listen to the live webcast at KCRW's website.