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March 29, 2005 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-03-29

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Tuesday
March 29, 2005
arts.rmichigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

a* e 13kb-WAu &d~tu
-RTrS

5

r

WHERE
IT'S AT

BECK RETURNS TO FORM
WITH ECLECTIC MIX OF
STYLES ON 'GUERO'
By Andrew M. Gaerig
Daily Arts Writer

Beck's reputation as a singles artist is vastly
overrated. His career was jumpstarted by "Loser"
more than a decade ago, and that would have
been thrown in the "Inside Out" and "Sex and

Candy" one-hit-wonder bin if
Beck hadn't come back two
years later with the ubiquitous
"Where It's At." The other
singles from Odelay, his 1996
breakthrough, vacillated
between strange triumph

Beck
Guero
Interscope

Courtesy of Interscope
"Look at all the crazy crap on the walls! Where are we - Applebee's?"
'Lulabies' rocksout
hard, but sags at end

("Devil's Haircut") and the oddly indefensible
("New Pollution" remains one of Beck's least-
likable pieces). But even Beck's most loyal
defenders must admit that his subsequent radio
stabs - the vaguely irritating "Tropicalia" from
Mutations and the criminally forgotten "Sexx
Laws" from Midnite Vultures - were barely up
to snuff. Sea Change, Beck's "I broke up with
Winona Ryder" album, was such a bummer that
no track even touched the airwaves.
Still, for an artist who hasn't released a truly
great single since the Democrats had their shit
together, Beck looms large on the modern rock
radar screen. So how could the executives at
Interscope screw up choosing the first single
from Beck's latest album, Guero (Latin-
American slang for "white boy")? "E-Pro"
kicks open the doors with a jaunty guitar riff,
but the rest of the song - a mashup of Beck's
sing-rap and a chorus that repeats the lyrical
gem "Na na na na na na na" - is the album's
weakest moment. This happens at a time when
radio singles are once again viable artistic
expressions, mostly thanks to musical hip-hop
producers like The Neptunes and Kanye West,
as well as a nearly unprecedented onslaught of
underground rock.
It's frustrating that listeners' first impression
of Guero will be "E-Pro" and not the smash-
hit-in-waiting "Qu6 Onda Guero." A brilliant
combination of salty horns, lazy rap verses and
L.A. street sounds, it's Beck's most immediate-
ly likable song since "Where It's At," and the
only possible justification for leaving it off the
airwaves is that there's a decent chance that it'll
be twice as good when the mercury passes the
80-degree marker.
He's back then, right? The culture-mashing
Beck of yore, the postmodern guru of genre
splicing and white-boy rapping? Here's the lazy
review, if you must: Guero is a nice Beck primer,
combining the best aspects of all prior releases.
"Hell Yes" could've been on Midnite Vultures,
"Girl" on Odelay and "Missing" on Sea Change.

By Chris Harrington
Daily Arts Writer

Courtesy of interscope

Play that funky music, white boy.

It's Beck reconnecting with the diverse Southern
California culture in which he grew up. Beck is so
great because he fits, like, jazz and folk and pop
and rap into the same song! Yawn.
In truth, Guero is a monumentally difficult album
to evaluate. While it's true that Guero incorporates
elements of Beck's "traditional" work, it's also true
that he has never doubled back on himself before,
making the notion of "traditional Beck" basically
bullshit. Sonically, he's probably not going to wow
anyone with this record - it's not as consistent as
Mutations nor as addictively neurotic as Odelay.
He's still fucking around with genre concepts,
adding Middle Eastern string sections to tropical
percussion sections on "Missing," rock guitar
riffing to old-soul backbeat on "Go It Alone." But
where Odelay shocked listeners into acceptance,
Guero smoothly and precisely puts the puzzle
pieces together. The production team The Dust
Brothers returns here, and while their presence
is felt in the gangster lean intro to "Earthquake
Thunder" or the new-wave blips on "Girl," their
impact is less drastic.
Yet it's tough to suggest - and harder to accept
- that Beck just sort of ended up somewhere in
the middle. Parts of Guero hint that we haven't
heard the last of the sad, boring Beck, and there's
enough ramshackle hip hop to bring party Beck

to mind. Even worse, several songs incorporate
the weird, baritone vocal tick that epitomized Sea
Change: Beck wails in the distance, seemingly
disconnected from the music. "Missing" actually
contains the line, "The guns in her mind aim
a line / Straight at mine / To a heart that was
broke." Ugh.
But for most of the album, Beck reminds
everyone why he's such a diverse musical force.
"Black Tambourine" bristles with low-key sexual
energy. "Rental Car" is a dancey Brit pop tour
de force. "Emergency Exit" ends the album with
a ghastly old-world stomp. And again, if "Qud
Onda Guero" isn't a huge summer smash, then
it's time to give up on your fellow man.
Beck has never released anything as banal as
a "transitional" album - his impulses arrive too
quickly and too completely - and very little
here gives clues to his future directions. In the
past, Beck has followed each of his albums with
its polar opposite, sonically and thematically,
and Guero is troubling partly because it feels
more like a self-contained entity than one side
of a Beck-coin. It is still, however, an interesting,
accomplished album that's both playful and
artistic. If it doesn't predict what's coming next,
then it's a fitting summation of what's going on
now. And no one should blame Beck for that.

In September 2002, Queens of the
Stone Age frontman Josh Homme
enlisted Foo Fighters frontman and
former Nirvana
drummer Dave
Grohl to lend his Queens of the
sticks on Songs Stone Age
For the Deaf. Lullabies to
The album was paralyze
the band's first Interscope
bona-fide suc-___tersope_
cess, boasting
rock delights "Go With the Flow"
and "No One Knows." After Grohl's
preplanned exit, Homme released
bassist Nick Oliveri from his musi-
cal duties as well, citing behavioral
problems, and he was left alone to
groom the Queens' latest baby, Lul-
labies to Paralyze.
Gathering help from rock's
remaining rabble, Homme and his
crew show a few hints of potential
- even with the absence of Oliveri
and Grohl - piecing together the
Queens' fourth album.
Continuing in the tradition of the
Queens' patented rhythmic com-
plexities and variations, Homme
interlaces percussion and guitar, pit-
ting the two against each other in
an unending combat he calls "robot
rock." "Burn the Witch" is a hard,
percussive walk through the park
and that highlights the band's knack
for disguising simplistic pop hooks
beneath heavy bass and haunting,
veiled vocals.
Homme's vocals, a secondary

concern on the album, seem to serve
as a falsetto filler designed to com-
plement and diversify the seething
power chords of songs like "Tangled
Up In Plaid." "I Never Came" lacks
the usual swamp monster guitar
licks, throwing an immediate spot-
light on Homme's vocal style, which
is a bit airy for the track. Regardless,
it is one of the album's best tracks.
Bruce Dickenson would have been
proud of the radio single "Little Sis-
ter," which balances itself around a
stubborn low-pitched cowbell.
Lullabies to Paralyze begins to
take a sharp nosedive with "Some-
one's in the Wolf" and "The Blood is
Love" with its almost 14 minutes of
mind-numbing repetition of the exact
same rhythmic phrases. In the first
eight tracks, Lullabies offers enough
uniqueness and variation that these
songs do nothing but disappoint and
distract. "Skin On Skin" may be the
album's lowest point, offering listen-
ers the clich6d line "I hate to watch
you leave / But I love to see you go"
over a grating guitar riff.
In a sort of sad attempt to save
the album, a monotone piano line
emerges in final track "Broken Box"
and Homme's "do's" allow this top-
heavy album to go out with a frus-
trated grumble.
Over the course of four albums,
Queens of the Stone Age have devel-
oped an uncompromising style of
entrancing stoner rock that is often
apparent on the first half of Lulla-
bies to Paralyze. Despite the patched
together sound of this album as a
whole, it might serve to clear the air
after the Queens' dissolution and
reformation.

__j

Detroit's Benson
comes of age
on Alternative'
By Aaron Kaczander
Daily Arts Writer
Detroit: It's a thriving musical petri dish of a city.
Disregard the slummy street corners, the abandoned
buildings and the wandering home-
less. Focus instead on the growing
community of bohemian artists who Brendan
inhabit the east side homes and fre- Benson
quent the dive bar nightspots.
Brendan Benson is accustomed The Alternative
to this lifestyle: He sheds slivers of to Love
light on the dark stigma attached to V2
the struggling legacy of the D. Ben-
son isn't the last shred of hope for rejuvenating the city's
rough landscape, but he has been a musical staple of
Detroit's thriving power pop and garage rock movements
for nearly 10 years.
On his latest album, The Alternative to Love, Ben-
son melds a near-perfect pop sensibility with the gruff
experience of a seasoned fighter. Though he is critically
adored and locally revered, he has yet to break into the
mainstream. His last two major label efforts, One Missis-
sippi and Lapalco, left him basking in the praise of those
in the know; Alternative may be the record that moves
him into the national spotlight.
With a majority of the songs recorded more than a
year ago, Benson's celebrated release follows a blight of
record-label mishaps. He's finally figured it all out with
the hook-laden Alternative. He recruited notable pro-

'Brothels' deserving of its Oscar

By Kristin MacDonald
Daily Arts Writer

The residents of Calcutta's Sonag-
chi quarter are no strangers to hard-
ship. The infamous red-light district
is home to thousands
of impoverished sex Born Into
workers - families Brothels
so poor that their
children must begin At the
contributing to the Michigan
household income at Theater
the age of four. But ThinkFilm
even that background
information isn't adequate prepa-
ration for the sight of ten-year-old
Tapasi, shrugging at her family's day-
to-day struggle with a world-weary
sigh one shouldn't develop until after
40. "One has to accept life as being
sad and painful," she says simply
- and in a place where puberty is
considered adulthood, it's clear why
she believes it.
"Born Into Brothels," this year's
Oscar winner for Best Documentary,
follows British photographer Zana
Briski as she moves into the Sonag-
chi community. Though she originally
aims to better understand the district's
inhabitants, Briski's focus soon shifts
to their children, who scamper about
curiously in the wake of her cameras
with an openness their parents are
reluctant to show in front of a white

Courtesy of ThinkFilm
The children of Calcutta's Sonagchi quarter with their cameras.

Courtesy of V2 Records
It's hard to be a hipster when The Man denies you smokes.
His faintly disdainful lyrics drip with wit: "All talk no
action / So what's the big attraction?" from "Cold Hands
(Warm Heart)" excerpts his skeptical inner monologue.
"What I'm Looking For," one of the record's standout
tracks, relies on the melting power of Benson's soulful
penmanship. Its acoustic backdrop and bouncy rhythm
highlight the sunny, innocent disposition of a true pop
gem. Alternative's few shortcomings occur in the flaccid

lor, introducing a child's view of its
plight. The kids become a dedicated
little troupe of photographers, snap-
ping shots of their surroundings with
happy abandon and delighting in the
proof -sheets Briski brings them to
evaluate.
Until the cameras follow them
home, in fact, this might be any
group of kids, sitting around Briski's
classroom with teases flying and sib-
lings squabbling. But their real world
is centered around cramped, often
filthy home lives, in which prosti-
tntinnmark. c amanv s, threPe' n-.

children's thin-mouthed understand-
ing of their poverty and little expec-
tation for more. That the inhabitants
of Sonagchi appear for the most part
to accept this existence for them-
selves and their children becomes a
source of maddening frustration for
Briski, as does the convoluted Indian
bureaucracy's lack of sympathy. She
goes from one government office to
another in a wild goose chase for sig-
natures to secure the kids' schooling,
despite the sense of futility that lin-
gers about the process every step of
the~ wav. Even if these kids do atte'nd

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