No Manchester

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One of the most interesting cultural phenomena in pop music is the rabid devotion of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to the music of Morrissey. Put simply, they have adopted him as one of their own. His melodramatic songs are similar in feel to the popular ranchera ballads and his dramatic, lovelorn persona resonates in a way that strikes a very familiar chord. Camilo Lara of Mexican Institute of Sound and Sergio Mendoza of Calexico are two such devotees and their project Mexrrissey features an all-star lineup of Mexican artists paying tribute to their hero by taking songs from his solo career and giving them an authentic reimagining. Though formed for live shows, their music easily translates to the studio and No Manchester is a lovingly crafted homage to the man and his music. Mendoza's crisp arrangements blend traditional instruments (accordion, mariachi horns) with subtle electronics, while Lara's production is punchy, giving the record the kind of sound that leaps out of the speakers. The vocals are top-notch throughout, with Chetes striking the right mood of resignation and spark on his features and Ceci Bastida doing a wonderful job on hers. The selection of tracks is strong -- they pick some of Morrissey's best songs and do them justice. The Chetes-sung "First of the Gang to Die" ("El Primero del Gang") kicks off the album in fine form, the Latinized treatment of the music making sense right away as it jacks up the dramatic aspect of the song, making it sound like a timeless gunfighter epic. Bastida changes the genders on the "Tequila"-quoting version of "The Last of the Famous International Playboys" ("International Playgirls") and injects some toughness and grit into the proceedings. She also nails the group's swooning take on "Every Day Is Like Sunday" ("Cada Dia Es Domingo"), as her multi-tracked vocals join the horns to form a majestic chorus. Most of the versions are fairly reverent, sticking to the basic template of indie rock with Mexican elements added, though a couple take a bit of a left turn. The Adan Jodorowsky-sung "Me Choca Cuando Mis Amigos Triunfan" ("We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful") has a jaunty tempo and sloppy vocal approach that turns the song into a drunken barroom singalong, and they turn the doo wop-inspired B-Side "Mexico" into a spacy folk song replete with angelic choirs and harps. Regardless of whether they play it straight or not, Lara and his gang of Moz lovers have done their hero an honor. No Manchester is a delight from start to finish, while being the absolute best kind of tribute album. It brings out what's special in the songs while giving them new life in a brand new context. In a nice little bonus, the seven studio recordings are joined by five songs that were recorded live at a raucous New York performance. They are looser and a little sloppy, but it sounds like the band is having a wonderful time. The listener will too.

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