Manu Chao’s Polyglot Melting Pot of Lyrics and Music

Manu Chao
La Radiolina
Manu Chao

La Radiolina (Nacional Records, 2007)

After a 6 year hiatus Manu Chao has blazed back onto the music scene with his third solo album La Radiolina. He previous offerings Clandestino and Proxima Estacion: Esperanza, along with his work with the punk-heavy sound of the band Mano Negra, have elevated Chao to star status in Europe and Latin America and a growing popularity in the fringe in the U.S. Leaning heavily on the political legacy of a Basque mother and a journalist father who fled Francisco Franco’s Spain, Chao is a champion of leftist ideals and organizations, and La Radiolina is quick with a poke in the eye for what Chao sees as oppressors, including the Bush administration.

La Radiolina, edgy and plucky at the same time, is a ramped up kick in the ass, a global stew of genres boiling over the sides of a polyglot melting pot of lyrics and music. Pooling a sound from punk, rock, Spanish flamenco, French pop and Latin alternative, La Radiolina‘s fresh sound also dips into reggae, folk and salsa as Chao delivers lyrics in Spanish, French, Galician, Arabic, English Portuguese and Wolof. The almost frenzied pace and raw wired sound might initially strike the listener as utter bedlam, but genius of La Radiolina is in its tightly textured depth.

Hip deep in the razzle dazzle of tightly packed almost rockabilly guitar, opening track "13 Dias" is a shot in the arm with Chao’s driving vocals. La Radiolina doesn’t slack off as it launches into the hard-driving "Tristeza Meleza" or reggae influenced "Politik Kills" with its outspoken lyrics. "Bosoin de la Lune" possesses a curious sound, as if it were a cross of Afro pop and rockabilly with some anxious Bob Dylan sounding, French lyrics right up front in the driver’s seat.

"Me Llaman Calle" might be one of the few tracks that goes without surprise, although how a chunky Spanish-Cuban song, complete with flashes of flamenco guitar, got on the CD might just be the surprise. Partnered with "Me Llaman Calle" is a "A Cosa," moving La Radiolina away from the frenetic with brass, heavy-lidded lyrics and a plodding beat, but the CD picks up the pace with the thrashing "The Bleedin Clown."

"Mala Fama" and "Otro Mundo" are treasures, but I really could have done without the sirens on "Panik Panik," which really struck me as one of those caffeine-fueled routs that should have been tossed.

For Chao fans who’ve waited six years for a follow-up CD, La Radiolina offers bonus tracks that include "Y Ahora Que?" and "Siberia," but I won’t spoil the surprise.

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Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.