Cafe' Tacuba

With Revés/Yosoy (1999), Café Tacuba (by far the best Mexican rock group ever) got away with murder. The risky double album didn't sell shit but it deservedly won a Latin Grammy and was at the top of everyone's year-end lists. Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads), their first real studio album in four years, is disconcertingly great. It is the product of a band with the naive yet firm conviction that the music, and only the music, will make things happen for them. And, so far, it has always been right.

Cuatro Caminos marks the first time Tacuba uses real drums and electric guitars on all the tracks, with explosive results. No longer restrained by that thing called "art," Tacuba now likes to get sweaty right from the start. "Cero y Uno," the opening track, is a dense midtempo rocker that's all in your face and doesn't sound like anything Tacuba did in the past. "EO," an infectious but innocuous twist, is turned into a classic thanks to an instrumental bridge led by the sound of an out-of-tune toy piano (their label must be thrilled). From time to time, they throw you radio-friendly songs. On "Eres" ("You Are"), a wonderful ballad written and sung by keyboardist/programmer Emmanuel del Real, singer Elfego Buendía (born Rubén Albarrán, he changes his name on each album) wraps the song with an unexpected Eastern touch as powerful as a mantra. If you like epics, you have "Hoy Es" ("Today Is"), and if you just want to know what Café Tacuba is all about, go to "Amor y Dulzura" ("Love and Sweetness"): "I don't envy anyone/I never ambition anything/I don't owe obedience to no one."

Of course Cuatro Caminos is an uneven album. This time, long-time producer Gustavo Santaolalla shares production duties with Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) and Andrew Wise (Rollins Band, Ween), leading to a lack of sonic unity, even though most of the songs rank among the band's best. Despite its musical exuberance, when you take into account the album's title, the four Tacubos' pronounced individuality (they all sing and write, and guitarist Joselo Rangel has already released a solo album), and a melancholic, farewell-like closing number in "Hello Goodbye," Cuatro Caminos feels like the beginning of the end for the group. I hope I'm dead wrong.

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Enrique Lopetegui