We live in an age where many artists feel compelled to release albums every year lest the music buying public forget them. Manu Chao has left a staggering six year gap between his last album and La Radiolina (Little Radio). But when you’re a world music artist whose debut album was outsold only by Buena Vista Social Club, it’s safe to say you’re not going to be forgotten easily.
It’s not that Manu Chao has been leading a hermit like existence in a cave for all this time. During the interim, amongst much else, he’s produced Amadou & Mariam‘s excellent Dimanche à Bamako album. But fans can now rejoice that the busman’s holiday is now over with the arrival of this hotly anticipated third solo record.
Chao’s earlier work was recorded on a portable eight track studio carried around in his backpack. Time has moved on and the eight track has now been replaced with a laptop. The global traveller spirit remains the same, but this time he’s been able to produce a more vibrant, multi-layered mix of sound. The album was originally planned for a release earlier this year, but was put back so the laptop could be put through its paces with more sonic tinkering.
This album is a concentrated effort to break into the English speaking market, the only domain where Chao isn’t a megastar. For anyone who’s somehow unaware, he’s a truly global artist who divides his time between Paris, Barcelona, Bamako and Buenos Aires. It’s not difficult to see why La Radiolina contains as many different styles of music as there are stamps on his passport. The multi-lingual vocals are designed to appeal to all and his music without borders approach is sure to appeal to the masses.
Despite not liking the world music pigeon hole, Chao draws on many influences from around the world to create a truly global experience. We’re taken to each and every continent is this collection of energetic, bite size songs. It’s an anarchic mix which is fun, exuberant and passionate. It’s difficult to ask for more.
Of course, the world has changed considerably in the last six years and this album reflects those changes. At first glance some of the tracks such as Politik Kills carry some simplistic rhetoric, but it’s never nihilistic or tiring. If there’s one criticism of the album is that it needs a few listens to grow on you – its predecessor Proxima Estacion Esperanza was a more immediate affair. At first it may sound a little repetitive in places and at time certain musical motifs seem to be repeated now and again. However, this is one of those albums that makes sure you spot something different every time and it’s certainly not a chore to listen to.
La Radiolina is sure to delight Chao’s legions of fans and will convert some new disciples. Only time will tell if this album will attain classic status – but let’s not leave it for another six years, Mr Chao.