Unbeknown to the general public (or at least outside of Latin America and pockets of “in-the know” folks here and there), Stephen Malkmus and Thom Yorke’s Latin American counterparts have been on the front line of Mexico’s rock movement since 1992. As if they were long separated distant cousins, the members of Café Tacuba are an undeniable presence in rock music south of the U.S. border. Since their debut album more than a decade ago, this quartet of artistically restless musicians have consistently raised their musical capacity to a height which earned their 1999 album Reves/Yosoy a Latin Grammy nod for “Best Rock Album”.
Comparisons to their North American brethren are of no outlandish tales either, but while they certainly owe a little to Pavement’s unbalanced approach and Pablo Honey era Radiohead melodies, Café Tacuba inject an incredible amount of individual ingenuity and a distinctly cultured flavor that one will only find in areas of unsanitary water and cheap tequila. This perhaps, is what gives them their elaborate mystic appeal; a perspective of rock music seen outside of the genre’s roots and archetypical perceptions. Deeply entrenched in their own musical pedigree, these four students of design all have a heavy hand in how Cuatro Caminos develops. “Cero y Uno” is a deceptive opener; drenched in sweeping riffs and vocals that swirl in and out of melody, it lures the listener into a false sense of more pliable offerings. And effectively so, because the track’s approachable arrangements are decisively cut to shreds with the following “Eo”. A ruckus romp into more frantic territory; a sound brought to America’s suburbs by the likes of the Voodoo Glow Skulls.
Their undefined dynamic is once again challenged by “Mediodia”. A far more subdued pondering that meanders into soft-spoken melancholy backed by clanging cymbals and kinks of instrumental chiming. Once again, it quickly swings, this time to the album’s most outstanding moment. In the ska tinged discordance of “Que Pasara”, frontman Elfego Buendia’s strained vocals quiver with the same effectiveness as Yorke’s would on the stages of Glastonbury. With a bassline so engaging and percussions that scissor with precision, Café Tacuba more than flexes their musical intellect as iconoclasts of their heritage. Their approach to deconstructing South American based rhythms isn’t entirely destructive either. In “Camino y Vereda”, the sambaesque beat that slithers in the background may appear lost in the crowds of rock guitars and echoing vocals but without it, the song would ultimately crumble.
Deep and truly engaging, the album only briefly succumbs to experimental pitfalls. The bizarre grouping of light merengue with enormously aloof disco beats that slipped its way into the early 80’s makes for one odd partnership; resulting in “Puntos Cardinales” distinctly Sonny Crockett feel. Then in “Desperte”, they embark on stripped-down measures that sneak and crawl its way around lo-fi island sounds and Buendia’s labored diction but results in a slightly plodding, directionless pace.
With only momentary misdirection, Café Tacuba’s latest is as remarkable as the vast ground covered in the album’s fourteen tracks. Traveling around a globe’s worth of musical attributes while humbly remaining dedicated to their craft, they cut through an immense amount of material with great serration. It is a wonder how so few outside selected circles are aware of this quartet; hopefully Cuatro Caminos will serve notice to the masses that Mexico’s most avant-garde rock musicians have been producing fine work for many years.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.