I’ve liked Beck since I first heard “Loser” back in the summer of ’94. And while I’ve enjoyed diving into some of his more esoteric and off-kilter stuff, I can certainly understand why he doesn’t top everyone’s playlists. I’m not in love with all of his stuff, but it can be a fun challenge when I’m in the mood for it.
Separate from these considerations, however, is Guero, released twelve years ago on March 29, 2005. This is a five-star record from start to finish, an accessible pop masterpiece that still entices with that Beckian edge. The singles “E-Pro“, “Girl,” and “Hell Yes” are all great cuts that found some commercial success (“E-Pro” went to #1 on the US Alternative Radio charts) but the real payoff comes from digging deeper into this record.
“Guero” translates loosely to “blonde boy” and was apparently a name Beck grew up hearing a lot. “Que Onda Guero,” then, translates to, “What’s up, blondie?” and the song provides the album title. It also gives us the potential for the best misheard Beck lyric (it sounds an awful lot like “underwear-o”) since someone insisted that the line “Soy un perdedor” was actually “Slide open the door.” Topped off with Paolo Diaz’s free-form riffing in the background, it’s a bilingual party anthem.
The shuffling drum and monotone lyrical delivery in “Black Tambourine” is infectious – the lyrics barely matter as the song is all about the rhythm. The guitar stabs at the bridge almost seem like an intrusion amidst the primal, almost tribal beat and thrumming bass.
On an album full of standouts, my favorite track is the staggering “Go It Alone,” its uniquely rhythmic vocal delivery in the verses giving way to a singalong “Na na-na na-na na” chorus. It is similarly sparse, instrumentation occasionally reduced to Jack White‘s bass and handclaps while the chugging guitar riff on the refrain leaves you wanting more.
There are a lot of nods to other musicians here, intentional or otherwise. “Missing” sounds like a long-lost Cibo Matto cut. “Earthquake Weather” could have been passed off as a Gorillaz b-side without anyone raising an eyebrow. “Rental Car” comes off as old-school Beck and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Mellow Gold a decade prior.
It’s tough for me to pick a favorite Beck album. At any given time, they might all be in the running depending on which I’ve listened to most recently. Guero is no exception, While the funk extravaganza of Midnite Vultures might just edge others out for the top spot (might!), everything else is a close second, and Guero runs with the best of the pack. If you’re a fan of Beck’s music, you already know what you’re getting. If you’re not a fan yet, you’d be hard-pressed to pick a better record with which to start.