Cafe Tacuba

With 1999's Revés/Yosoy, Cafe Tacuba (by far the finest Mexican rock group) got away with literal murder. The risky double album didn't sell worth a shit, but it deservedly won a Latin Grammy and was at the top of the major Latin rock critics' year-end lists. In that light, Cuatro Caminos (or Four Roads), the band's first real studio album since then, 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, the band is right.

Cuatro Caminos marks the first time Tacuba uses real drums and electric guitars on all 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 anything like traditional Tacuba. "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 surely must be thrilled). From time to time, they toss in radio-friendly songs. On "Eres" ("You Are"), a ballad written and sung by keyboardist/programmer Emmanuel del Real, singer Elfego Buendía (born Rubén Albarrán, the dude changes his name on each album) wraps the song with an unexpected Eastern touch as powerful as a mantra. For epic lovers, there's "Hoy Es" ("Today Is"), and for pointed insight as to what Cafe 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."

Cuatro Caminos is nevertheless an uneven album. This time, longtime 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 many of the songs rank among the band's best. Despite its musical exuberance, when you take into account the album's title, the four Tacubas' 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 wrong.


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