New CDS: Beck, Beanie
Reviews of “Guero,” “The B. Coming” and more
Beck Guero (Interscope)
After the final out of the 2004 World Series, NBC played Beck’s “The Golden Age” during the closing credits. It was a weird choice — they obviously picked the song to celebrate the Red Sox victory, judging it by the title but ignoring the fact that it’s a heinously depressing breakup ballad. Jesus, talk about a buzz-kill. But it was a perfect Beck moment, given the strange way he’s spent his career foraging through American junk culture. On Guero, his eighth album, he returns to what he does best, hopping from genre to genre, hustling for scraps of beat and rhyme. He has reunited with the Dust Brothers, the producers behind his 1996 masterpiece, Odelay, for his liveliest and jumpiest music in years. Suggested ad slogan: The slack is back!
Ever since Beck hit his peak with Odelay, he’s stood firm in refusing to make a sequel, or even an album that sounded remotely like one. His MO has been to push one of his tricks all the way to album length. So he became a morose folkie on Mutations, a comedy-funk party yutz on Midnite Vultures and a broken-down love junkie on Sea Change. All these records had their good and bad moments, and all had their fervent admirers. But they erred too far on the side of consistency, and whoever wanted consistency from Beck? Guero is the first record since Odelay where Beck mixes up the medicine the way he did in his Nineties prime — we get stun-gun rock guitar (“E-Pro”), cracked country blues (“Farewell Ride”), psychedelic bossa nova (“Missing”), goth atmospherics (“Scarecrow”) and laid-back fire-hydrant-Seventies R&B (“Earthquake Weather”).
Throughout Guero, Beck dips deeply into Latin rhythms, reveling in the street culture of the East L.A. neighborhood where he grew up. “Que Onda Guero” is a walk through the barrio, with traffic noises and overheard Spanglish voices over Latin guitars and hip-hop beats. Guero is slang for “white guy”; Beck’s an outsider here. The song ends with some stranger saying, “Let’s go to Captain Cork’s — they have the new Yanni cassette!” “Hell Yes” and “Black Tambourine” sound like they were knocked off in a session that began, “Hey, let’s do some of those wacky, zany numbers we used to do,” but they’re still pretty great.
Guero will get Beck accused of copying Odelay, but it has a completely different mood. Tune in “Missing” or “Earthquake Weather,” and you can’t miss the melancholy adult pang in the vocals. The closest he comes to a funny line on the album is “The sun burned a hole in my roof/I can’t seem to fix it.” Which isn’t too close. Beck is thirty-four now and can’t pretend to be the same wide-eyed, channel-surfing kid who buzzed with wiseass charisma on Mellow Gold, Odelay and Stereopathetic Soulmanure. On Guero, he sounds like an extremely bummed-out dude who made it to the future and discovered he hates it there. The lyrics are abstractly morbid — lots of graves, lots of devils. Nearly every song has a dead body or two kicking around. At times, Guero feels as emotionally downbeat as Mutations or Sea Change. But there’s a crucial difference: The rhythmic jolt makes the malaise more compelling and complex, with enough playful musical wit to hint at a next step. Beck isn’t trying to replicate what he did ten years ago; instead, on Guero he finds a way to revitalize his musical imagination, without turning it into a joke.(ROB SHEFFIELD)
Beanie Sigel The B. Coming (Damon Dash Music Group)
Back in 2000, Beanie Sigel was poised for stardom, before his life and career were derailed by the street life he documents so well. In November, he began a year in prison on federal gun charges. The Philly MC’s flow is still among the best — it recalls the smooth delivery of his mentor, Jay-Z, mixed with a young Ice Cube’s growl — and The B. Coming starts strong. “Feel It in the Air” and “I Can’t Go On This Way” weren’t produced by Kanye West, but may as well have been, with soulful female vocal hooks softening Sigel’s ruminations. The B. Coming eventually flattens out into dark, brooding territory — it was, after all, originally going to be called The Great Depression. The stoner anthem “Purple Rain,” with electric guitars reverberating into space, is an only slightly apologetic ode to painkillers and cough syrup. And many a track waxes longingly about the guns that landed him a sentence. “Don’t Stop” is vintage Neptunes, with Snoop Dogg purring above drifting organs and a cowbell sound. “Let’s toast to the man that when he get out/He gonna do them things that he rappin’ about,” says Snoop. And then comes Beanie: “Hatas, stay out my face/And know that thing still by my waist.” (BILL WERDE)
Morrissey Live at Earls Court (Attack/Sanctuary)
It’s been nearly twenty years since the Smiths broke up, but the band’s passionate, sensitive fans have never quite gotten over it. On this live set from 2004, Morrissey — who is slowly turning into a British New Wave version of Frank Sinatra — heals some of the heartache by revisiting his old group’s anthems in excellent, swaggering renditions. Between the shuddering opening riff of “How Soon Is Now?” and the final cymbal crash of “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me,” Moz takes on “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” to rapturous applause. But Live at Earls Court isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia. The best songs from last year’s return-to-form You Are the Quarry — the ironic “I Have Forgiven Jesus” and the fiery “Irish Blood, English Heart” — hold their own against the Smiths’ classics. (JONATHAN RINGEN)
The Bravery The Bravery (Island)
After the success of the Killers and Franz Ferdinand, the world is crawling with rock dudes who’ve suddenly discovered their deep and abiding respect for the Cure’s Robert Smith. Enter the Bravery, who got together in New York barely more than a year ago but who already have fans drooling for their heavily anticipated debut album of synth-heavy goth pop. Singer Sam Endicott looks like a cross between Morrissey and the bald punk guy who befriends Eric Stoltz in Some Kind of Wonderful. The Bravery do a jockier version of the New Wave competition, pumping the drums in straight-ahead tunes such as “An Honest Mistake” and “The Ring Song.” But the peak is “Swollen Summer,” which combines the best of early Love and Rockets with late Flesh for Lulu. (ROB SHEFFIELD)
(Posted Mar 28, 2005)
New CDS: Beck, Beanie