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Manu Chao - Proxima Estación: Esperanza Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 June 2001

Manu Chao

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
format: CD
label: Virgin Records
release year: 2001
performance: 9
sound 7
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

ImageManu Chao is like a walking, talking and singing melting pot, and Proxima Estacion: Esperanza is an example of the nearly indescribable multilingual stew spilling out of his playful imagination. But what else would you expect from a guy born in Paris to Spanish parents who was strongly influenced by punk pioneers like The Clash?

Adding to this musical excitement -- or confusion, depending upon how you look at it -- Chao is also enamored with Jamaican reggae, and much of the music on this disc bounces with rolling and tumbling bass lines, giving it a decidedly Third World feel. For example, the loping "Mr. Bobby" applies a gentle Kingston groove over which Chao appeals to Bob Marley’s ghost for the kind of sanity only his soothing music can bring.

Then there is a song like "Denia," which rides on the waves of briskly strummed acoustic guitars, filled out with group-sung vocals and sporting what sounds like tooted recorder accompaniment. It feels something like traditional folk music, but not quite. This isn’t world music: it’s otherworld music.

Smack dab in the middle of this disorienting menagerie of sounds sits "Trapped By Love," with its jazzy beat, swinging horn lines and Chao’s dapper vocals. But Chao can’t sing a song completely straight, oh no, so his lyrics here alternate back and forth between French and English. He’s like a guy who comes into your house and makes all the paintings on your walls just a little bit off center

Lyrically, Chao comes off as a kind of Pied Piper for personal freedom. In addition to the party atmosphere created by his music, Chao outspokenly promotes marijuana use in songs like "Promiscuity," and comes off as someone for whom the personal is always political. In between songs, what sounds like a border radio DJ can be heard in boomingly echoed statements, which gives the listener an impression that somebody is playing Russian roulette with an international radio dial somewhere.

Manu Chao makes music for an imaginary universe in which labels, genres and categorizations mean nothing at all and where stylistic possibilities are virtually endless. It may appear to be a messy mixture of influences at times, but Proxima Estacion: Esperanza is ultimately a recommendable collection of untidy treasures.

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