Manu Chao, La Radiolina

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Aside from being one of the most politically engaged international rock icons to come down the pike in years, Manu Chao is also a voracious self-cannibalizer. His oft-covered Clandestino hit single "Bongo Bong" was adapted from the Mano Negra hit "King of the Bongo," and "Bongo Bong"'s musical setting was in turn recycled on two tunes from Chao's subsequent album, 2001's Próxima Estación: Esperanza (Next Stop: Hope). That album introduced the Chaovian sense of permanent crisis that also marks La Radiolina. "Hey Bobby Marley," he implores in "Mr. Bobby" from Próxima Estación, "sing something good to me/ This world go crazy/ It's an emergency."

The most politically engaged international rock icon to come down the pike in years.

But this is nothing new, Chao has been a remarkable musical miniaturist and cut-up fiend since Mano Negra. (As his own cover co-designer, Chao blends African, Spanish and Caribbean colors and imagery into a distinctly individual style that always hints at more than it reveals.) Próxima Estación's relatively brief musical snapshots of troubled Caribbean and Latin tropics often end abruptly, only to pick up suddenly again in their successors; and the harder-rocking Radiolina recycles some half-dozen arrangements throughout its sixteen tracks and four "bonus" cuts. Yet the short track lengths, along with nearly nonexistent between-track pauses, lend the album a compelling organic unity. "Rainin in Paradize" ("In Fallujah, too much calamity/ This world go crazy, it's no fatality") shares the same nervous police sirens, anxious rising guitar lines and urgent beats with both "El Hoyo" and "Panik Panik" as well as "bonus" tracks "Mama Cuchara" and "Siberia." Chao has no patience for post-release remixes; Radiolina creates its own schizophrenic afterproduct.