Review Summary: Fascinating guitar playing duo take several steps back
In a music world where Carlos Santana can team up with the likes of doe-eyed rock stars such as Rob Thomas and get away it, simply under the pretense of it being just a little exotic and therefore cool, then by the same admission should Rodrigo y Gabriela be a more successful act, if for no other reason than to exist as nothing more than a novelty. It stands to reason then that Rodrigo y Gabriela are simply victims of their own folly, woefully under-marketed when a sound such as theirs should at the least, be intriguing enough to warrant further investigation, and should, with no assistance, be exciting enough to see them getting the attention that they rightfully deserve. But just look at that damn album cover; it sort of makes sense that in the past this gallivanting twosome have riddled their albums with covers and tributes to some of their influences (coincidentally some of the biggest names in rock and metal), perhaps as a way to entice a few more followers, because god knows, in looking at that album cover, that they’re simply not doing themselves any favors in trying to market a sound that, outside of their home country, sounds so wonderfully delicious and thrilling.
And for a group who has managed to successfully fuse Latin-based rapid-fire flamenco guitar playing with more conventional metal arrangements, they’ve still managed to do remarkably well for themselves. They began by playing heavy metal in Mexico City before switching to acoustic and playing around with jazz and Latin instrumentation, travelled around the world as buskers before settling in Dublin, and have since travelled the world again to the tune of over a million records sold. And yet, Rodrigo y Gabriela have always felt as if they were always on the cusp of major success, always one step shy of being truly recognized. In fact, that stigma has doggedly followed them since the beginning of their career, always allowing a few more devotees into the flock but never willing to truly open up the flood gates. 11:11
, their last offering, was a deal-breaker of sorts, that saw them playing not at their most refined and complicated but at their most accessible; as a testament to this, their video for ‘Hanuman’ now sits in excess of over a million views on Youtube. No small feat, but again, nothing truly groundbreaking for an outfit who don’t really sound like anything else in the conventional music world.
being the deal-breaker, Area 52
should then be the follow through, the delivery on the promise. Sadly, RyG’s latest offering is nothing more than a re-imagining, a re-working of some of their more popular tunes, now reassembled with the help of a 13-piece Cuban Orchestra (the titular C.U.B.A.) and support from the likes of John Tempesta, Anoushka Shankar and Le Trio Joubran. It’s a bold new approach for the duo, sharing the spotlight with a host of overwhelming talent, and the downfall of all this is that the support ends up doing more harm than good, effectively drowning out the very selling point of the group. The truth of the matter here is that not for a single moment on this album does the music manage to rise above everything that has come before it. ‘Hanuman’, with its percussive slaps and curiously-addicting rock formation is now subdued under a sea of pounding hand drums and blaring horns, to the point where any and all charm is simply forgotten. ‘Juan Loco’ now sounds like the theme music to a badly-dubbed foreign game show, ‘Ixtapa’ now comes complete with sitar accompaniment that just sounds terribly out of place – at its best, Area 52
feels like the soundtrack to a documentary of the land and its music (Cuba Vista Social Club maybe?), at its worst, it’s the salsa section on Dancing With The Stars. It’s technically impressive, there’s no denying the musical acumen of all involved, but all that can really be said about this album is that it’s a nice
project that might have been put to better use as a one night only concert, because it’s certainly not the crucial next step in the continued evolution of this otherwise fascinating duo. It unwisely turns the focus away from the tightly coiled and intense guitar playing, and winds up leaving us with something that might resemble the soundtrack to a spy crossing the border action flick: James Bond in a white straw hat running across rooftops maybe?