Heralded as the voice of a disenfranchised generation ever since the 1994 release of signature song “Loser,” Beck just laughs when asked if he feels pressure to live up to such an impossible standard.
“I have no delusion that that is even expected of me or anyone cares,” he says. “I don’t have that big an opinion of myself. I would be a pretty sad spokesman.”
But no doubt pundits will once again trot out the term when referring to his new album, “Guero,” due March 29 on Interscope.
The album reunites Beck with the Dust Brothers, who produced his best-selling CD to date, the 1996 release “Odelay.” The title has sold 2.2 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Propelled by a sing-along chorus and funky beat (as well as a sample of the Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want”), first single “E-Pro” is off to Beck’s strongest start at radio in years.
The song is No. 2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart, Beck’s highest chart position since “Loser” hit No. 1 in 1994. It also is his first top 5 at the format since 1996’s “Where It’s At.”
The songs on “Guero” — which melds rock, rap, atmospheric pop, folk and Latin rhythms — sound fresh because Beck created most of them in the studio with the Dust Brothers. “I just go in with some vague idea or no idea at all,” Beck says. “You’re just putting yourself on the spot on a daily basis.”
Now married and with a small son, Beck says making music remains sacred. “At home, there’s so much going on all the time,” he says. When recording, “the world disappears in a way that only happens in the studio where you’re breathing the same oxygen for days on end. Sometimes to really get inside the music and it’s flowing out of you, you have to bury yourself alive.”
Such vivid imagery is present in “Guero.” Upbeat melodies often tangle with downbeat lyrics, as on “Girl,” a Beach Boys-reminiscent tune with dark lyrics.
“Originally, the lyrics to ‘Girl’ were really upbeat, and then it didn’t work for me somehow,” Beck says. “You need the dichotomy. If you’re doing something happy and light, you need the shadows. That was something that the Pixies did so well. Frank Black is a genius at these happy songs, and then you listen to the lyrics and they’re based on [Spanish film director Luis] Buñuel films of cows’ eyes getting cut.”
“Guero,” which loosely translates into “white boy,” was a neighborhood name for Beck when he was growing up in primarily Hispanic East Los Angeles. One track, “Qué Onda Guero,” specifically refers to his past.
“There’s all these ideas dancing, they’re always looking for an opening for the right place to come out,” Beck says. “It’s one whose time had come.”
“Guero” follows 2002’s “Sea Change,” an often-somber, confessional album that reflected on a lost relationship. That title sold 612,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
A special edition of the disc will come packaged with a DVD. While on tour for “Sea Change” in Japan, Beck came across compelling graphics by a British visual arts company called D-Fuse. He hired it to do a visual interpretation of “Guero.”
“Everyone’s talking about what the future of recorded music is in terms of downloading songs and the implications of people not buying CDs and what happens to the artwork,” he says. “But if you’re breaking music down to where it’s encoded files, you can easily put visual information into that. The artwork isn’t something that’s printed on the CD case, it’s something that exists in the music. That’s the whole concept behind the DVD.”
Excerpted from the March 26, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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