La Radiolina sounds like a partially successful attempt to bridge the gap between the...
Jon Lusk 2007
Even by post-millennial standards, six years between successive studio albums is a long time to keep the fans waiting. And then to produce one which sounds half-finished? Well, “Mala Fama” (‘evil fame’) is the title of one of these 21(!) new songs, so maybe Manu Chao is playfully courting obscurity.
La Radiolina sounds like a partially successful attempt to bridge the gap between the studio and his astonishingly energetic live shows, while revisiting his Mano Negra punk-pop roots.
However, with many of the tracks petering out in little over two minutes, often roughly edited into one another, it’s not as satisfying or flowing as his early work. Not that there isn’t plenty to enjoy.
There’s a smattering of very appealing slower, sparser tracks such as the Cuban/Catalan rumba swing of “Me Llaman Calle”, which is later recycled – oops, I mean ‘reprised’ – as “La Vida Tombola”. But more typical is the irresistibly racing energy of “Tristeza Maleza”, with its luminous sci-fi synth effects, driving snare, snappy brass motifs and ominous warnings to George Bush Jnr. Unfortunately it’s followed by the unsubtle agit-pop lyrics and reggae chug of “Politik Kills”. Yeah, we knows. When he sings in Spanish, it’s much easier to overlook the formulaic nature of his lyrics, which often still rely on repetition of one catchy mantra-like phrase, with a different ending for each line.
Repeatedly re-using a small stock of sound effects from one album to another is that other great Chao trademark, and it continues here. It looks like the ‘space invader’ sample that peppered Clandestino and Próxima Estación…Esperanza has finally been put to bed, but the cop car siren which decorated Dimanche à Bamako, his fabulous 2004 collaboration with Amadou & Mariam, still seems to have mileage in it. It does make you wonder, though, whether the punk-polka “El Hoyo” and “Panik Panik” aren’t actually also just fragments of the same song.
Anyway, La Radiolina has more new gimmicky sounds than ever before – including hysterical laughter, blubbering lips, and hillbilly geetar licks – plus more guitars.
It’s a very good – as opposed to great – album struggling to escape from 50 minutes of often carelessly sequenced clutter. With some judicious pruning, and if he actually bothered to finish some of the songs, I’d be able to like it as much as I want to.