Can someone explain to me why it is that Beck wants to be Eddie Vedder? There are about three good songs scattered around his new album, Guero: "Que Onda," which has a fun little latin beat and (for some reason) a Mexican accent; "Girl," a sunny Beach Boys vamp; and "Scarecrow," which is funky enough to almost redeem the whole thing. On these tunes, it doesn't sound much like Beck--but it doesn't sound bad either. The rest of the album ranges from generic to terrible. And the vocals... oy.
No-one would ever, I think, claim that Beck is a particularly talented singer. Flat is probably a good way to describe him, but it always seemed to work well for his brand of folk/rap. Mix in his gift for arrangement and rhythm, add judicious chorus and distortion, and the result on Odelay and Mellow Gold (the two other albums I own) was distinctive, to say the least. Maybe he's decided to add more "character" to his singing, because on Guero he's adopted that mumbling, mouth-never-opens-all-the-way delivery of Pearl Jam or Creed. It annoys me, and it sounds terribly generic.
In fact, that's really the worst part about Guero: it just sounds plain. In its best moments, it tends to evoke other artists, not its own sound. "E-Pro," the album's single and opening track, just isn't very interesting. Some of the songs, like "Farewell Ride," start out slow and labored, and will sometimes gradually improve during the choruses. But those choruses are often wordless "la la la" singing. Combine that with the Vedder Gargle, and my hand instinctively darts toward the track forward button whenever I hear "Missing" or "Emergency Exit," almost the worst songs here...
And then there's "Hell Yes"--what's going on here? Why are there stereotype-accented Japanese women cooing phrases like "Hi. I rike your bass. Your beat is nice." throughout the song? It's a little offensive, and more than a little ridiculous. This wasn't a good track to begin with, what with the vocoder and the gratuitous harmonica and the utter lack of the melody. Add a constant half-whispered request to "prease enjoy" and it almost becomes "Muskrat Love" comical.
Maybe Beck's busy. Maybe he's pulled a John Carmack, off firing rockets instead of creating product--and that's fine. But Guero sounds like his attention just wasn't there, and I don't like being sold a product that the artist didn't care about. Music is littered with albums, like John Popper's sad little solo effort Zygote, that aren't good--but aren't lazy either.