Guero (DGC/Interscope)

Beck Hansen's finest year was unquestionably 1994, when Los Angeles' most talented high school dropout served up three great records -- an indie-folk trawl (One Foot in the Grave); the multigenre, major-label mash-up that made his name (Mellow Gold); and a whacked, lo-fi sampler of just about every style of music known to man at the time (Stereopathetic Soulmanure). Hansen's output since, while displaying his talent, has been short on full-blown junk-dealer confection. A more wizened update of his Dr. Frankenstein-on-Mars modus operandi, Guero slays effortlessly. "Que Onda Guero" bucks like a ride home from the strawberry fields in the back of a Sanford and Son pickup full of hombres cracking wise and flinging catcalls while bizarre R2D2 ring tones whir from the bodegas they pass. "Hell Yes!" resembles a robotic "Soul Suckin' Jerk," but instead of bashing deadbeat bosses, Hansen big-ups his skills, while Christina Ricci purrs multilingual fluff, and harmonicas face off against DJ scratches. Packing more verve and personality into a single track than Sea Change's weepy entirety, Guero almost makes it possible to forgive Hansen for that improbably lauded 2002 snore. Almost.

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