The scratched record: Cuatro Caminos
Except for his version of No Controles - which I met because a member of the pre liked it, just because it contained, according to him, a small tribute to One, from Metallica - the Café Tacvba were unknown to me when they gave their concert in Havana in 2009. A week before you could see me playing this album continuously, because it couldn't be that I wasn't able to sing at least two or three songs during the recital, what would people think? Although in the end I could not do it, because I ended up badly hearing from the wall of the boardwalk, as happened almost every time someone played in the ill-fated Anti-Imperialist Tribune, the worst acoustics in the insular Caribbean.
Anyway, the concert interested me no more than the girl who saw it with me. Not the album More Than You Are, the sixth track, a Latin American anthem that, when the time comes, I would have to sing for her, looking at her, ignoring everything else, or at least everything that had no minimal direct or indirect relationship with her eyes.
The first thing (and maybe the only thing, but let's not go there) that should be required of a love song is that one can sing it to his person. After that, if we feel like it, we can say something. The characters in love songs always correspond to specific individuals, of flesh and blood, they are always "based on real events"; but individual and character share DNA only when the one who sings or listens is the author. In the rest of the cases, the protagonists of the plot are you and the person you love while the music plays. The actors in this novel have the ability to blend into all the people who are likely to be loved. The same topic, at different stages of your life, could talk about the girl you liked in fifth grade (whom you mortified and said about everything except what you had to say, until she cried), about the unreachable English teacher, or the girl you dumped with at a party.
Following this line, Eres, by Emmanuel del Real, is a great love song. It is despite its overly sweetened lyrics full of clichés, its simplistic melody, and the fact that everyone knows that when the Cafetas play it, the lights are going to focus on some idiot kneeling, proposing to his crying girlfriend. . It is one of this type of unique songs, made with I don't know what material, which one may not like because it is believed to be very avant-garde and that, but it is what allows someone to spend money on tickets, and send a trip of kilometers only for a song of the recital, and therefore, feel cheated if it was not performed that night. It is a love song in the strict sense, the kind that you think is a fucking romantic stupidity until you fall in love, and you get romantic, stupid, and cute.
Listening to this album in the days before the concert was also looking at Rubén Albarrán. Many do not like her voice, surely the same ones who find the vocal timbre of Geddy Lee, singer of Rush, unbearable. It is not, neither one nor the other, my case. I really enjoy this skinny little guy and that amount of energy that he puts in whether it's in the studio, in an arena in front of thousands of people, or in the tiny space of a Tiny Desk Concert. He is, I think, one of the best active frontmen of the Latin American rock club. Of course, his voice is not a pear juice. Anyone who wants to have a good digestion should buy a Mariah Carey record. We are in Mexico City and this is the Chilanga Banda. Nothing comes down soft here. This is hell. Here even tourist-friendly pear juices scratch the throat.
Rubén (Elfego Buendía for this record) is a top performer. His voice is a plasticine: it rises, falls, it stretches, it shrinks. Everything he does with her, he wants to do, it doesn't just come out like that, like others. He squeals like a fart mariachi, whispers foul gibberish that neither you nor I will understand, he gets nasal, slits, falters. Monster. This catalog of vocal mannerisms, this hyperbolization of tone (sometimes close to caricature), gives his performances an expressiveness that is scarce in other places, guilty of the fact that many people (among which I do not include myself) prefer the Vale Callampa EP ―Where the band covers four emblematic songs of Los Tres― to the entire discography of the Chilean group. Desperté, a tenth cut from Cuatro Caminos (Universal Music, 2003), is an example of both Rubén's histrionic vocation and his wide and deep toolbox.
The music of Café Tacvba should sound good. I'm not asking you to go and buy some $ 200 Jabra headphones, but less than 128 kilobytes per second and a 15 CUC Chinese bluetooth speaker (price from Cuba, actually cost 4) is a combination that this band is tight . There are sound experiences that do not demand decent audio. Café Tacvba is not one of those. If you can't, well, what a remedy, the world isn't ending either. A good song does not cease to be because it is heard badly. Worse than mediocre sound is the boring silence of your family's parties. But if you already heard with poor audio quality, then you should not make the mistake of closing the Café Tacvba file and attaching the “res judicata” sticker to it. Hearing them wrong is like reading a translation: you will understand everything but you will not be able to avoid thinking about what you are missing.
In those days around the recital in Havana I read for the first time that they were called by the Latino Radiohead. Even at that time this kind of comparison offended me. Not anymore, although I do believe that they are ineffective communication resources, not to mention their colonizing bad breath. However, when I listened to the album before sitting down to type, I had to think of Thom Yorke and his troop while they played Camino y Vereda (especially at the beginning) and Useless Enchantment. Because the economic activity that these two bands share is the sale of auditory excursions. The listener, in both cases, leaves for the forest of sounds, with his wicker basket, to collect new noises like mushrooms. On the Cuatro Caminos tour, we found the first mushroom as soon as we got off the bus, at Cero y Uno, when that industrial snore opens the phonogram, which seems to be the breathing of a cyborg, heard by himself while running.
One of the key moments of the album, from the enunciative, comes when in Eo, second track, Rubén tells us: "It's that it's the turn of the sonidero sound, pure sensation!". This line operates as an alert to the user who came looking for meaningful, deep and poetic lyrics. Here (in the album and in the style of the band) the lyrics have an accessory function, they are subordinate to the music, and specifically to the rhythm. It is a practice that, if it turns out well, chapó !, the problem comes when some artists turn it into a bad habit, and then neglect the words, transforming them into patches, table legs, mechanical solutions.
This is what happened to Mediodia, which seems to me to be one of the weakest cuts on the record even though it had a very good reception. In the final sentence it is noted that Quique Rangel, author of the song, needed to fill the sound space with words, and it cannot be said that he did it wrong, or at least that he did it in a different way than he had been doing, but it shows , and that's enough. And since we started with the gossip, I also say that this song is the place in Cuatro Caminos where I least like the voice of Rubén Albarrán, because he tries to put it "cute." And the worst thing is that he does not do it for free, his vocal affectation plays a narrative role: transmitting the feeling of supposed contemplative fascination of the character, who observes the little things in life from his balcony (children playing, birds, and all those bullshit), happy only in appearance, because very soon we will know that in reality he is alone and sad, poor thing. When the truth is revealed, then Rubén recovers his usual voice of a swamp frog and says: Ha! I cheated. Every time I find it more difficult to swallow that "arjonero" resource of hiding information throughout the whole issue to deliver it to us at the end and surprise. Because in an Agatha Christie novel, well, it happens, in the end you only read it once, but in a song? Me, friends, I almost always solve that issue with the skip button.
Beyond the stain, this utilitarian role of the lyrical with respect to the musical is very well worked in general terms. The aforementioned Eo, I am or I am, and the Useless Enchantment chorus are obvious examples. The lyrics don't say much, even if you memorize them to impress, they don't mean either. They say the right thing, what the music asks for. There is also this other class of songs, no longer so predominantly rhythmic, more “singable” (Eres, Qué pasa, Recuerdo Prestado), where the lyrics have more lights on them, but without stealing the show, the Tacvbos have plenty of clarity and good sense to know that their virtues do not go there.
For me the album could have ended in Taking the Fresh, without much problem. For two reasons. The first is that the remaining tracks (Today is and Hello Goodbye) are the most inconsequential, the cucumbers in the salad. They contribute very little, from the narrative of the album (which isn't that there is much either) and from their individuality. Rubén, the Rangel brothers, Gustavo Santaolalla, you, me, and the studio's doorman know about it, or do you think they are located there at the end by chance? I understand that the group did not want to close the door, in the end they are also their children, but hell! Separate them, shuffle a bit, put one here and one there, I don't know, leave them as a bonus track, but don't make it so easy for me, because I just finished listening to track 12 and I win eight minutes and 42 seconds. If you want me to pay attention to the two most boring pieces on the record, you have to disguise the thing for me, brown the pill, because the bland cucumber cannot be eaten without salt, lemon and olive oil.
Cuatro Caminos is not among what I like the most about Café Tacvba, but it was the first thing I heard and it is also a great album. Mestizo, bastard, like all the music of this great group, the best that we still have playing in the neighborhood. That is why I am so sorry not to have enjoyed your 2009 concert in Havana as you should have, to be aware of the eyes of a girl who, just sounding the first chords of Eres, told me that that song reminded her of her ex.
Cuatro Caminos no está entre lo que más me gusta de Café Tacvba, pero fue lo primero que escuché y es, además, un gran disco. Mestizo, bastardo, como toda la música de este grupazo, de lo mejorcito que tenemos sonando todavía por el barrio. Por eso lamento tanto no haber disfrutado su concierto de 2009 en La Habana como se debía, por estar pendiente de los ojos de una muchacha que, nomás sonar los primero acordes de Eres, me dijo que esa canción le recordaba a su ex.
Carlos M. Mérida
Oidor. Coleccionista sin espacio. Leguleyo. Temeroso de las abejas y de los vientos huracanados.