Eclectic artistry

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By Gary Graff  

The second track of Beck's first album in nearly three years asks "Que Onda Guero" -- "Where you going, white boy?" That's never an easy answer with Beck, who over the course of six major label albums has traversed rock, rap, blues, folk, funk and the quiet melancholy of his well-received 2002 effort, Sea Change.

Guero puts Beck back where most people like him, however, in the "two turntables and a microphone" mix of the double-platinum Odelay and Midnite Vultures. He enlists collaborators here from those albums, including the Dust Brothers and Tony Hoffer, and invests most of the thirteen songs on Guero with hot grooves, phat bass lines and playfully constructed vocals delivered in his trademark talk-sing style.

But rather than mere retrenchment, Guero reflects some genuine growth from its predecessors. The integration of sounds is smoother than before, while the upbeat melodies are woven tighter, with dark lyricism, particularly on the psychedelic pop tart, "Girl."  Mostly, though, this collection is a spirited sonic joyride that keeps your feet moving and your ears engaged.

The first single, "E-Pro," samples the Beastie Boys' "So What'cha Want" underneath its singalong nah-nah choruses. The aching "Missing" channels the likes of Kurt Cobain and Sting, while "Earthquake Weather" and "Que Onda Guero" incorporate Latin flavors. Not all is light and fun, however. There's a foreboding ambience to "Emergency Exit," while "Broken Down" recalls some of the darkness of Sea Change, with its moody mix of electric slide and acoustic guitars. Those are side trips, though. The phat, anthemic funk of "Hell Yes" and the rootsy Western collage of "Farewell Ride" are greater indications of where it's at for Beck on Guero.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.