Not the Mexican Beatles, Beastie Boys, Radiohead, or any of the other bands that the lazy rock press in America has dubbed Café Tacuba, this is the Mexican Café Tacuba. Furthermore, despite an obnoxious blurb from a music magazine pasted on the outside of the disc, Cuatro Caminos is not the "Rock en Español Kid A." Kid A isn't this good. On Café Tacuba's fifth full-length album, and first for Universal/MCA, the group characteristically pulls out all the stops and makes some of the most anarchic, loopy, and delightfully accessible music in its 14-year history. Musically, the Tacubas are as wild and varied as ever, utilizing any and every available rock, pop, folk, and post-punk soundscape treatment available, blending them all with mind-bending ferocity, vision, humor, and intelligence, and they create not a pastiche, but an entirely new kind of rock & roll that is virtually unclassifiable -- thank God. Longtime producer Gustavo Santaolalla and engineer Anibal Kerpel are here as always, but they are aided and abetted by Dave Fridmann of Flaming Lips fame and Andrew Weiss of Ween. The expansion doesn't water down the sound, but makes it more texturally and atmospherically elastic without losing any of the gleefully hooky, aggressive raw-edged rock that's made them infamous. Over 14 tracks, listeners (gringos especially) will be wondrously dislocated inside their own rock discourse, hearing references and influences fleet by before they can be named, or turned so far inside out that the only way to go is back on themselves.
While Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads) is ambitious, it is also punchy and full of swagger, tough soul, anthemic choruses, and sweat, flip-flopping rock & roll history, Latin folk styles, and postmodern sonics and production techniques into a construct that is at once fluid, provocative, and delightfully, wickedly funny -- and this isn't necessarily the lyrical content, but the music itself. The first single, "Eo," about a wacky soundman who makes people delirious with joy to the point of dancing to exhaustion, is full of sputtering fiery pop/rock hooks and punky edges, but nonetheless turns on a chorus made of nearly chanted lyrics, bringing everything back to the ground before kicking it loose again. Sounds found, manufactured, treated, and otherwise waft through the rock & roll mix, seemingly guided by producers inspired by the gods of rock yesteryear, but rebellious enough to stretch time and space in their own way. Simply put, there is no album, not even in Café Tacuba's own catalog, that is remotely like Cuatro Caminos. As pointed out by the band's biographer, the only record that can be cited as a reference, not for sound or music but in terms of reckless adventure and sustained effort, is XTC's long-ago album Go 2. The Tacubas have reinvented themselves as a band once again by changing all the rules of the game of songwriting and making records. This isn't some artsy, pretentious mishmash of intellectual crap full of inside jokes. This is dirty, raucous, greasy, innocently wild, soulful, and raggedly elegant rock & roll that happens to be art because of its originality, energy, and guts. This is a serious candidate for rock record of the year. Cuatro Caminos is as brave as Zapata's revolution and as much fun as an electrified Latin son band playing the Clash and Chuck Berry at the same time.