Clandestino (Esperando la Ultima Ola…)

Manu Chao

1998: EMI/Virgin Records France H2 7243 8 45783 2 9

  1. Clandestino
  2. Desaparecido
  3. Bongo Bong
  4. Je ne t’aime plus
  5. Mentira…
  6. Lagrimas de Oro
  7. Mama Call
  8. Luna y sol
  9. Por el Suelo
  10. Welcome to Tijuana
  11. Dia Luna…Dia Pena
  12. Malegria
  13. La vie à 2
  14. Minha galera
  15. La Despedida
  16. El Viento

I heard this played a few times at my local pub (the exemplary McMenamin’s [Queen Anne]) and found myself a bit tantalized by its linguistic palette, as it mixes Spanish with a bit of French and English and sprinklings of other stuff (including Arabic, briefly, I think…not many languages with that fluid vocal sound have such a guttural aspirant), but it was “La vie à 2” that finally forced me to get a copy for myself.

The first time I heard “La vie à 2” and couldn’t turn my concentration back to what I’d been reading, I scribbled a note to myself to follow up on upon returning to my apartment—something to the effect that there was a beautiful and sad recording by someone named Manu Chao (Mike, the manager that night, provided me with that answer right away) that had the mesmerizing magic of Peter Gabriel’s “Zaar“ but in a more intimate setting. Hearing it once more not long afterwards, I wasn’t long in actively hunting down a copy. I love this track’s mantra-like apologies and mea culpas…it makes an interesting counterpart to Annie Lennox’s “Twisted” (on Bare) with the latter’s closing salve of “I didn’t mean to make you suffer / I didn’t mean to make you cry / You didn’t mean to make me suffer / You didn’t mean to make me cry….”

As for the rest of the album, while it’s a fascinating mélange, it largely keeps me at at least arm’s length: it’s a little heavy on the Mexicali sound, all those third-twinned vocals and cliché mariachi instrumentation/song structures, and I have never found Mexican music at all appealing. The heritage of this album is rich, I know, and it presents a sort of prismatic/kaleidoscopic reflection of the Central American musical world of the late 1990s (with heavy atmospheric sampling repeated in thematic threads throughout), but the world it’s tapping is one that holds little actual interest or attraction for me. So please don’t read this as a negative review or a dismissal of this fascinating album: on the contrary, it’s a gorgeous and well-crafted work that just happens not to be my cup of tea (with the definite exception of “La vie à 2,” of course).

(An auxiliary note: my ear keeps hearing something in the background of this album overall, and a few times on “La vie à 2” specifically, that makes me wonder if Chao’s sampled Mouth Music’s “Birnam.” I might have to explore that question just to resolve the matter.)