Mano Negra

Casa Babylon

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Manu Chao's road to Clandestino and Proxima Estación: Esperanza begins here with Mano Negra's swan song album. Conceptually, it marks the first use of radio and TV broadcast samples to create sound collages between tracks so the songs emerge like they would if you were station surfing on the car radio. Lyrically, it's the birth of the internationalist Manu Chao, as overt political messages largely replace the previous rebel rocker sentiments. Musically, Mano Negra returns to the manic rhythmic drive of Puta's Fever and ups the reggae, ska, and Latin ante after testing more mainstream rock waters on King of Bongo. But Casa Babylon goes one step beyond Puta's Fever by crashing together different styles and even lyrics in different languages within the songs. So the racehorse title track blends a Latin feel with motor-mouth rapping and blowsy trombone, while "Senor Ma Tanza" starts fast and furious before settling into funky dub at the end. "El Alkaran" slyly drops lyrics from "La Bamba" into its ecological complaint alongside ragga DJing, while "Hamburger Fields" is surreal pop laced with a bop-bopping vocal hook. Mano Negra doesn't entirely turns it back on rock -- "The Monkey Speaks His Mind," "Sant a Maradona" (a tribute to Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona), and "Love and Hate" more than adequately fill the high decibel and hard guitar quotient. But Manu Chao definitely turned a corner here, one that set the stage for his success even as it marked the end of a group that exerted an enormous formative influence on the Latin alternative scene.

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