Jarabe de Palo

Un Metro Cuadrado 1m2

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Consistency was what Jarabe de Palo frontman Pau Dones was going for on Un Metro Cuadrado 1m2, nominated for a 2005 Latin Grammy. "People should be able come to us just like they can to a painting by Picasso or a movie by Almodóvar, knowing beforehand what to expect," he explained to the press in his native Spain at the start of a promotional tour. But there's a fine line between consistency and redundancy, and much of Un Metro Cuadrado falls disappointingly in the latter camp. It's too bad because there is so much to love about Jarabe de Palo's signature sound, an appealing mishmash of Caribbean, African, flamenco, and blues styles. Here, though, the bad songs suffer from the monotonous harmonic structures and relentlessly chirpy lyrics Dones has been stuck on since the group's well-established fan base gobbled up Bonito in 2003; the good songs, by the same token, rise to the top after multiple listenings mostly because of their resemblance to some earlier hit. Thus "Escriban Más Canciones," an otherwise unconvincing and borderline condescending shout-out to womankind -- who Dones really, really wishes would write the songs he's sure are coursing through their yummy little veins -- transcends thanks to guest vocalist Lucrecia's performance, which sounds an awful lot like the time that legendary salsera Celia Cruz sang the bejesus out of "A Lo Loco" in a fitting finale to Depende, arguably Jarabe de Palo's best album. Likewise, "El Café de la Morena" is a catchy and respectable return to the summer of 1997, when breakthrough single "La Flaca" conquered Spain, while "Dicen" succeeds because both its melodic hook and dramatically slowed coda recall the subtler emotional textures of the band's early days. With the exception of "Cry (If You Don't Mind)," an astonishingly awful bit of ESL rock sung in a duet with Chrissie Hynde, this latest batch of songs is as forgivable as it is forgettable -- but unless you're already such a fan that you must own the whole Jarabe de Palo collection, you'd be much better off biding your time until the next release by giving some of your old favorites a spin.

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