One of the most common descriptors of Mexican rock band Café Tacuba’s (stylized Tacvba) album Re is that is the Spanish-language “White Album” of the Latin rock movement. The comparison is not too far off from the truth. Diverse, eclectic with a mix of new and more traditional Mexican sounds, the hour-long, 20-song album is a self-contained epic. Even if it may not have reached the cultural status of the “White Album,” its unbridled sense of joy and passion gives the album a leg up on its Liverpudlian cousin.
Lead singer Rubén Albarrán has one of those Billy Corgan/Julian Casablancas-esque voices that have no business sounding that good. Squeaky and nasally, it’s utilized quite skillfully by Albarrán in tracks like “Esa Noche,” a bolero-influenced track scorns an ex-lover (“No me hubieras dejado esa noche, porque esa misma noche encontré un Nuevo amor”). The track features beautiful vocal harmonies during the chorus, and the smattering of strings contributes to the overall melancholy.
It’s important to note that Café Tacvba’s music is not itself a perfect representation of traditional Mexican folk, but a catchy synthesis of more traditional elements with the Western rock canon that the band members themselves were quite familiar with. However, they borrow from more than just bands like The Beatles. “Trópico de Cáncer” has a distinctly Brazilian tinge to its chord progressions. “La Ingrata” is heavily influenced by norteño music, a regional Mexican style of music itself heavily influenced by the music of European immigrants from Germany and Poland.
Simply listening to the wide variety of styles of music present on Re made me want to explore the genres and references that are littered throughout it, from the form of the corrido to ranchera music from the rural parts of Mexico. Re strikes me as essentially a love letter to the music and culture of Mexico. Even though I have read that several songs are in fact parodies of these traditional styles, I can tell that they are parodies borne of love rather than mockery.
My personal favorite on this magnificent album is “Las Flores” (the flowers). I don’t normally trust ridiculously sappy songs. In my admittedly stupid way of viewing things, they can’t be as aUtHeNtIc as songs borne out of some kind of darkness of some kind of emotional pain. But that’s all bullshit. I mean, listen to “Las Flores.” “Ven y dimes todas esas cosas … Escucharé a todos tus sueños” (“Come and tell me everything … I’ll listen to all these dreams”). Ugh. “Yo te eschucharé con todo el silencio del planeta, y miraré tus ojos, como si fuerran los últimos de este país” (“I’ll listen to you in all the planet’s silence, and look at your eyes as if they were the last left in this country”). God no, stop it. But I can’t stop listening to it. Maybe it’s so damn corny that it comes full circle, and the feelings that it expresses simply can’t be made up in a crude pastiche of love song lyrics. Maybe the words on paper don’t convince you. Well, just listen to Albarrán earnestly scream at you, with all the sunny guitars and accordions leading him on. Personally, I hate it and love it too much to describe.
Another standout soon after “Las Flores” is “El baile y el salón” (“The Dance and the Ballroom”). A tender, romantic piece about two men falling in love on the dancefloor, it features some of Albarrán’s best singing and lyrics: “Yo que era un solitario bailando, me quede sin hablar, Mientras tu me fuiste demonstrando que el amor es bailar” (“I was just a lonely dancer left speechless, while you showed me that love is dancing”). The band is even more impressive live than in the studio, and “El baile y el salon”’s live versions are some of their best work.
Re is not an album that consistently reaches the heights it is capable of reaching, but it is tremendously vibrant and sunny nonetheless. A love letter to the world’s music, dancing, Mexico and life itself, it is a valuable introduction to the world of Latin rock and Latin music in general.