I studied Spanish for almost eleven years growing up. I have a passable Spanish accent that allows me to order tacos in authentic Mexican restaurants without hearing someone say to the chef, “Eh, escupida en la comida del gringo.” I pour Tapatio on nearly everything I eat. I own a Fender Strat that was made in Mexico. But none of that made the slightest difference in my review of Cafe Tacuba’s latest full-length, because Cuatro Caminos is rock ‘n’ roll fun in any language.
The promotional sticker on the cover touts Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads) as the “Rock en Espanol Kid A.” That’s pretty far off the mark, but I could get down with the “Rock en Espanol The Bends.” Nothing is too off the wall here, but the majority of it is extremely inventive, taking the tenets of modern rock and infusing them with a unique flair.
In perhaps the album’s most obvious single, the fuzzed-out syrup and stabbing guitars of “Que Pasara” work in a hyperactive acoustic guitar reminiscent of traditional Mexican music. The plinking guitar works a similar magic in the bottom-heavy ballad “Eres,” delicately sung by keyboardist Emmanuel del Real. One of the album’s few faults is that del Real didn’t sing all of the album’s ballads; frontman Elfego Buendia’s voice sounds a bit strange in some of the softer moments.
Buendia, however, is a champ when volume is necessary. The video game-disco pop of “Puntos Cardinales” starts slowly, but when the chorus begins, Buendia transforms the most languid track into one of the album’s strongest. Maybe it’s just the way that the guitars were engineered, or Buendia’s wrenching delivery, but I can’t shake the feeling that the driving opener, “Cero y Uno,” has some lost connection to Nirvana. And that ain’t a name I just bandy about, neither.
Astute music enthusiasts will note the name Dave Fridmann on the back of the album; “the fifth Flaming Lip” produced three tracks here, most notably the somewhat jazzy, not quite trippy, always enchanting “Encantamiento Inutil.” While this is undoubtedly the most experimental track on the album, it doesn’t feel out of place, which speaks to the breadth of Cafe Tacuba’s sound. Eighties dance pop, springy hard rock, muted electronics — it’s all here, and you won’t need a translating dictionary to appreciate it.