BY JAMES MOORE
Beck Hansen is a slacker funk god. Dude is pure mayo, the ChristinaAguilera of alt-pop, to quote an astute local critic. I’m not sure ifthat’s a compliment or not, but it fits like a tight bodice over a rippedabdomen, especially with the Latin American influence that permeates his latestrelease, Guero.
This is the slim slickster’s sixth major label release, the tenth recordoverall from the prolific genre-blending, milieu-bending potpourri-ist whois not afraid to mix-and-match disparate styles into simple but slightly askewaural mosaics with attitude. He is teamed once again with the Dust Brothers,who helped produce his landmark 1996 release, Odelay.
I still smile every time I hear “Loser” from his first albumback in 1994, the slap-rappy, loosey-goosey blanco basura smash that laidBeck a golden egg. “In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey,butane in my veins…” But it was that everlasting chorus linesteeped with slacker bravado that slew me: “Soy un perdedor—I’ma loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me.” (Soy un perdedormeans “I’m a loser” in Spanish, more or less.)
Don’t know why that tickles me so much. Lord knows, I can’tafford the therapy to find out, but it’s just so offhanded and who-gives-aflying-F that it transmogrifies into the quintessential Generation X inside-outanti-disempowerment anthem. This is a far cry from cute-to-be-neuteredHuey Lewis “Hip to Be Square” fare. I remember when Lennonsang “I’m a Loser” in the early Beatles’ days,it made me wonder how the coolest guys on the planet could be singingabout being losers? What hope was there for mere mortals?
But as I got more experience in what used to be called “real life” (notto be confused with the “real” in the current reality TV craze,which has as much to do with reality as weapons of mass destruction hadto do with the President’s invasion of Iraq), I realized that whatgoes up must come down, spinning wheel got to go round, and all that.In other words, things are not always what they seem.
The Political Aside[Speaking of which, is it just me, or are you getting the sense, unfortunately,that the war in Iraq is further from being over every day? I just readthat not one single major road in the whole country is secure. Polls showfor the first time more than half the people in the U.S. feel that Mr.Bush wasn’t being truthful in making his case to send troops intoharm’s way. [Remember the infamous tight flight suit photo-op on the aircraft carrierbeneath a “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner? We just passed thesecond anniversary of that widely televised moment when a fairly buoyantcommander-in-chief declared an end to major combat. No one at the timeexpected the mopping up phase would last into its third year, with noend in sight. [Did you know former CIA-backed Iraqi exile and Washington neo-conservativefavorite Ahmed Chalabi—the one whose organization the U.S. paid$340,000 a month for “intelligence” (he admitted he was happyto be the fall guy for fabricating stories if it got rid of Hussein),the man convicted of embezzlement in Jordan, who was charged last yearwith counterfeiting in Iraq, and accused by U.S. intelligence of spyingfor Iran—is now deputy prime minister of the country after servingas interim oil minister? [Add to the drama, a high-level British memo confirming that a full eightmonths prior to the unprovoked assault on Iraq, our administration wasmaking overtures to take out Iraq. “Military action was now seenas inevitable.” Even though the case against Iraq was “thin,” accordingto Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam,through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism andWMD.” [According to Richard Dearlove, the British intelligence chief, “intelligenceand facts were being fixed around the policy” in the U.S. This wasin July 2002, mind you, even before the administration unleashed its carefullyorchestrated public-relations campaign to persuade Congress to give Mr.Bush the authority to invade Iraq. [Two months later a dossier is released by British Intelligence in timeto convince lawmakers here to authorize the use of force. (A second “sexedup” dossier, riddled with out-of-date and inaccurate information,will be released in time for Colin Powell’s unsuccessful UN pitchin February.) [Flash-forward to the present: it’s safe to say, stability hasfailed to materialize in Iraq with the newly elected Iraqi government.Has the country already slipped into civil war, as some analysts are saying?I hope not. But if this newly surfaced memo is right—and Britishofficials have not challenged its accuracy—it’s high timefor a thorough investigation. How can we expect other countries to beaccountable, if we aren’t accountable ourselves?]
Beck to the Future
Beck’s new album is happy summer music. Just ask any “Girl.” Thefirst single is “E-Pro” with its Beastie Boy beats and bulgingsock-rock guitar parts. The Spanish rap and outdoor street vibe on thesecond tune (“Que Onda Guero”) is a personal fave of me andmine. The whole album is like down-home world music with a side of guacamoleand black beans mixed with shimmery mountaintop ghetto blacktop hip-pop.Artsy-fartsy but somehow organic. Deceptively simple with trademark acousticslide hooks here, harmonica there, and always that flip-switch dispossessedcroon of Beck vocalizations.
To summarize: I like it muy mucho, but recommend giving it a few listensbefore the Supreme Court judges in your head give their final verdict.At first blush it may seem a tad under-wrought, but this puppy grows onyou like Uncle Spam in an unprotected PC.
Speaking of first blush, I got a copy of the new Shame Train CD (SheKnows the Score) and I like it overall. Not in a somersaults or cartwheelssort of way, but inviting like the Mississippi on a hot summer day. Leadsinger Sam Knutson has a sort of wobbly Boz Scaggs meets an inebriatedCrash Test Dummies at the corner of John Hiatt and Looking Glass singerElliot Lurie (“Brandy [You’re a Fine Girl]”) set ofpipes. Direct storytelling, chord-bedded songs that stick to the ribs,like “Homewreckin’ Carnival Girl.” Solid drumming. Openchords, electric leads that soar and twang but not unduly. Some greatwaltzes. Love the extended solo on “Air Supply” and the line “She’sa good girl when she’s sleeping.” A country rock flavor inthe best sense with a tinch of Neil Young, this is a walk on Main Streetin Guitar Town from a group based in Iowa City.
Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor is not Perry Farrell, not that there’s anything wrongwith that. It’s just that Jane’s Addiction is not Nine InchNails and never has been. Nuff said. On an unrelated note, Chroe is notthe bad guy and people should like her cuz friendship is sacred no matterwhich way the wind blows and her peeps have been mean and icky. To paraphraseLao Tsu—sometimes you can’t keep the funk down. Reznor’snew album is called [WITH TEETH], but [WITHOUTLEGS] or [BITE ME] wouldhave been more apropos. I don’t hate it but I don’t thinkyou’ll like it.