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What I’m listening to this week: Manu Chao

August 30, 2009

La Radiolina – 2007

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Manu Chao.  I mean, I know he has legions of fans worldwide and I respect the fact that he takes on political issues, reaching people through music and all that jazz.  Maybe it has something to do with the first experience I had hearing his music, last year when he performed at the ACL festival as a headliner.  On one hand, I’d never seen someone so blatantly cop stage moves from Bob Marley (and when I referenced that in my tribute to Bob, yes, I was talking about Manu Chao), not to mention the overall reggae-fied stage presence itself; on the other hand, the show was lively and professional.  Still, it sounded like the band was playing one song over and over again, each time erupting into a high-energy super-fast jam in which the crowd would be encouraged to jump up and down at length.  That’s pretty awesome when it happens once or twice during a show, but that must have been the case at least six times during the Manu Chao set, so it was perplexing, yet also hilariously entertaining (though not exactly a fulfilling live music experience).

So, I wasn’t overly enthused when I had the opportunity to pick up La Radiolina for free a few months back, but I popped it in and gave it a brief listen, pulling it back out again for the first time this past week for this review.  Although I truly appreciate Manu Chao’s goals for his music, La Radiolina is rife with problems and didn’t do much in the way of settling my mind about him as an artist.  La Radiolina first suffers from the issue of being far, far too long.  Regular readers might know that I start to get jumpy when an album exceeds 14 tracks.  La Radiolina is 21 tracks long…and when many of those tracks are under 2 minutes (including some random instrumentals, nine songs under two minutes in length), your album might just be too bloated, and several of those short tracks simply repeat the same music heard in songs prior.

Additionally, La Radiolina has an unfortunate lack of originality in musical soundscapes, and is lyrically weak.  Granted, I don’t speak Spanish fluently, but you really don’t need to in order to hear the fact that the lyrics are repetitious and harping on key struggle-related phrases.  Not even a song calling out former President George W. Bush manages to angry up the blood, although if you’re listening to the album in the car, the vast array of siren noises might stir up feelings; perhaps not ones that’ll make you love Manu Chao though.  As far as the sound of the album goes, because of the amount of filler spread throughout, it’s difficult to drudge through to the actual songs; they all seem to blend together into a somewhat messy mix of Latin rock, reggae, and world music.  It seems like the band was keen on adding as many sounds as possible to the record, and it doesn’t always do the job and can actually be quite distracting in a negative way (“Tristeza Maleza” for example).

There are a couple of standouts worth plucking out and adding to your playlists though.  The first track “13 Días”, is an interesting blend of electric bluegrass and Latin beats.  “Politik Kills” is probably my favorite song from La Radiolina because it’s a much more down-to-Earth reggae song that is simple in its message and has a great guitar line.  “Rainin In Paradize” features some of those police sirens, (they’re subdued at least), the alternative-flavored guitar is excellent and the hook is quite catchy.  “La Vida Tómbola” is a laid-back and cool traditional Latin song, complete with horns, and the track following it, “Mala Fama”, blends into it seamlessly for a several minute long respite from some of the manic qualities of the rest of the album.  As a whole, La Radiolina takes up too much time and accomplishes not nearly enough in the process.  Unless you’re already a huge Manu Chao fan, it might not be worth listening to all at once.  Take that handful of really quite good tracks from La Radiolina and let me know what you think.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 12, 2009 3:22 pm

    I’m jumpy enough behind the wheel. I don’t need wailing sirens on MORE THAN ONE track when I listen to an album in the car.

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