For his eighth album, Guero, Beck reunites with the Dust Brothers, the production team that helped make Odelay a masterpiece of perfected pop-cult clutter. The Brothers (not really brothers at all, but friends Mike Simpson and John King, the Delicious Vinyl duo responsible for Paul's Boutique, Tone Loc's "Wild Thing," and, uh, Hanson's "MMMBop") cameo'd on Odelay's follow-up/not-follow-up Midnight Vultures, but it's on Guero that they finally attempt to reprise what many, including Beck, considered unrepeatable. There were reports that Beck would be rockin' out on his new album, but aside from the guitar-heavy first single "E-Pro," he instead comes off like an elder statesman reigning over a waning kingdom. That's not to say Beck isn't still the Loser King. All of the trademarks are here—the bar-slut genre-hopping, the Spanglish lingo, the samples (more so than on Midnite Vultures, maybe because he can afford them now)—but the productions are more economical, the songs more refined, more somber, perhaps the corollary of a record made in '03 and '04 and not during the excessive cultural and financial boom of the '90s. Guero isn't weirdly joyous like Odelay, the response to and product of so much early-decade brooding. Guero smells of death—not the death of an artist or his creative powers (much of this album, from the soft bossa nova of "Missing" to the quiet love dirge "Broken Drum," finds Beck in the same lyrical state of mind as 2002's remarkably naked Sea Change), but the fear of death (see "Rental Car," "Black Tambourine," and the funeral march that is "Farewell Ride"). Sea Change was like listening in on the court jester's love-sick confessions, private conversations, and secret fears, so the giddy craziness and exaggerated humor Beck could get away with before just won't fly now (it would be akin to your father chaperoning your high school prom dressed in a checkered vintage tuxedo and trying to act "hip" in front of all your friends). Whether intentional or not, the cool and collected Guero is an album that understands, and tries to spare us, that kind of humiliation.