Way back when, there was Mano Negra, an explosive eight or nine (more?) piece with an international roster. Their sound was as motley as their lineage, but they poured a myriad of influences into a high pressure cooker, and the results were pretty explosive.
Nearly ten years later cones Clandestino, Mano Negra frontman Manu Chao's solo effort. Singing in several languages and seemingly utilizing only a handful of chords and riffs, Chao has released a thought-provoking collection of music that hangs together beautifully and gracefully. Clandestino unites songs of varying sound, style and tempo into a single unit by fading between tracks whenever possible, rallying about a heavy reggae core that brings about memories of the early Police.
If there's anything that might keep you from enjoying this record to its fullest, it's its multilingual nature. Chao writes a bit goofy in English, but has some quite lucid moments in Spanish. Liner notes are provided, but they don't include translations. For example, "Mentira" ("Lie") declares everything on this world to be a lie, while in the background a dubby repetitive beat drones on, the odd sample drifts in and out, and a newscaster details the events of the Conference on Global Warming (in Spanish). Chao is rightly disillusioned with a lot of the world's inequalities, and he makes his observations pretty clear, if you can speak his languages.
Clandestino is one of the most gripping records I've heard in some time. Manu Chao has shown himself to be a powerful songwriter and musician, able to deliver both in lyric and music. One album does not quite place Chao in league with people like Bob Marley, but he's certainly showing the potential here. Ark 21, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Penthouse Suite, Sherman Oakes, CA 91403; http://www.ark21.com