Jeff Beck
Loud Hailer
Atco Records

One of the more frustrating aspects of carrying around the genius gene is how unpredictable and fleeting it can be. In Jeff Beck’s case, that gene has moved from raw, savage blues-rock to fusion and, as 1999’s Who Else proved, even a bit of electronica. With Loud Hailer, Beck is less worried about crossing something off his stylistic bucket list and more interested in the sound and feeling of being part of a band.

Over the last few years Beck has gravitated towards assembling groups of musicians with staggeringly virtuosic chops, such as bassists Tal Wilkenfeld and Rhonda Smith, and drummers Narada Michael Walden and Vinnie Colaiuta. Now it seems like the 71-year-old is pushing himself in a different way—by setting aside his over-the-top instrumental acumen for more lyrically driven material.

At a party at Queen drummer Roger Taylor’s house, Beck met singer Rosie Bones and guitarist Carmen Vandenberg from Bones, a hip, gritty pop-rock band based in London. Filippo Cimatti, who also worked with Bones, was brought in to co-produce Hailer with Beck, and Cimatti rounded out the group with bassist Giovanni Pallotti and drummer Davide Sollazzi.

This shit is real, baby.”

That’s one of the first lyrics on “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” the heavy shuffle that opens the album. I’m not sure if a truer statement could be made in regards to how visceral and explorative Beck sounds. Even at first listen, Hailer comes across as a supreme guitar album with Beck’s trademark whammy bends, trills, and screams around every corner. Kinda strange from someone who doesn’t want to be typecast as a guitar hero.

Jeff Beck is playing some of the best guitar of his life. He is completely at the top of his game and there’s nobody even close.

As hard as it is to imagine, there are things that Beck plays on this album that would be difficult to fathom him coming up with even four or five years ago. He cracks open “Thugs Club” with a distorted rubato intro before delving into an addictively funky rhythm and a wickedly breathtaking solo break at 1:25 that I had to listen to several times before coming to the same conclusion that so many of Beck’s solos have led to: “How does he do that?”

Hearing Beck click on his wah while letting his inner Hendrix out on “Right Now” is a bit of a bird call to his 6-string fans. And those who hang on every whammy flutter and bend—for good reason—will not be disappointed with Beck’s detour into more artsy, pop-influenced fare. In between each course of Rosie’s lyrics, the squeals of feedback peek around and frame this stomper as a should-be staple of his upcoming tour. It just begs for a crowd of thousands singing along and pumping their fists in the air.

Today, Jeff Beck is playing some of the best guitar of his life. He is completely at the top of his game and there’s nobody even close. That might sound like a bit of hyperbole to the uninitiated, but Loud Hailer, Beck’s 17th studio album, sits comfortably alongside Wired, Truth, Blow by Blow, and Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop. Beck is changing the rules and proving to everyone that retirement is overrated.

Must-hear tracks: "Live in the Dark," "Right Now"