afé Tacuba just may be the greatest rock band on Earth. Yet, either because of ethnocentrism or, more likely, ignorance, you’d be hard pressed to find an English-language music publication willing to say it. But that’s their loss. Since releasing their debut in 1992, Café Tacuba have proven themselves as the Latin-music world’s most influential and enigmatic trendsetters. Over the course of their next four albums, they have dabbled in every genre conceivable, from ambient rock to hip-hop, metal to madrigal, Norteño to new wave, with dazzling results. This time the expectations have never been higher, as Sino is the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s masterpiece, 2003’s Cuatro Caminos. And while this record may not quite reach their previous album’s lofty standards, Sino is by no means a disappointment.
Scaling back the irreverence and eccentricity of their past works, Tacuba, instead, have made a record explicitly in debt to their classic rock idols; namely, David Bowie, the Who, and the Beatles. Nowhere is this more evident than on single “Volver A Comenzar.” With shared lead vocal duties from lead singer Rubén Albarrán and guitarist Joselo Rangel, the song rides a Let’s Dance-era hook to describe a personal and existential breakdown of humanity (“If I made a list, I would see all my errors, from the smallest to the worst, it would expose all of the wounds, the failures, lost loves and lies.”). In the hands of lesser bands, an epic song like this would fall on its face. Suffice to say, this simultaneously distills and usurps the Killers’ entire oeuvre in just under eight minutes.
As the album progresses, however, it also becomes rapidly apparent that this is as tight as the band has ever sounded on record. Whether due to their multiple solo projects during their hiatus, or the constant rumors of their demise in the interim, Café Tacuba use Sino as an occasion to showcase more than their taste and musical knowledge. They showcase themselves. Fittingly, this is the first time that all four band members share lead vocal duties on an album. Bassist Enrique Rangel delivers one of the record’s highlights, the Babasónicos-esque “Tengo Todo,” and its pseudo-mystical mantra of “When I don't want anything I have everything." And for the second consecutive time, keyboardist Emmanuel Del Real contributes the single-best song on a Café Tacuba album, the minimalist and immediate “53100.” Of course, as with their spiritual forefathers the Who, the Tacubas success is a collective effort. Just take a careful listen to “53100,” and note its “Won’t Get Fooled Again” structure; bombastic drums, one-note keyboard, dueling acoustic and electric guitars, and proto-punk vocals; it’s downright scary—and fabulous.
For this reviewer, though, Sino is one long extension of side two of Abbey Road. With its sophisticated production, collectivist ideals, and meticulous ebb and flow, this is as close to a stepchild of the Beatles swan song as you may ever find, at least in scope. “Vámonos” and “Quiero Ver” are pop songs so deceptively sweet, you’d have sworn they were translations of George Harrison outtakes, while “Y Es Que…” is the exact song John would have passed off to Ringo if they were born in Mexico D.F. rather than Liverpool. Not to mention the finale, “Gracias,” which begins as a sardonic protest song and dissolves into an extended drum solo, a la “The End.”
While some may find the Abbey Road comparison a bit trivial, there is something about the “mature” Tacubas that unarguably matches up with the attitude of the “mature” Fab Four. Their inherent themes of goodwill and diplomacy, for instance. Café Tacuba, like their idols, are not accidental ambassadors of culture, they are deliberate messengers for what makes rock and roll the greatest barrier-breaker of the past half-century. While Sino may finally be the record where Café Tacuba drop the shenanigans and mature, that doesn’t make their impact any less than it ever was, or ever will be.
Reviewed by: Andrew Casillas
Reviewed on: 2007-10-24