Before Ozomatli, Grupo Fantasma, and Bombasta, there were Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
OK, there were others.
But in the modern history of Latin alternative music produced by those who speak Spanish as a first language, no other band has been more successful and influential in mixing different rock streams with Afro-indigenous rhythms than the Argentine now-six-piece combo.
La Luz Del Ritmo (“The Light of Rhythm”), LFC’s first studio album in 10 years, reached number one on iTunes Latino days before its March 10 release, and its subsequent world tour (the band’s first in seven years) drew a crowd of 100,000 in two Mexico City shows and 120,000 in Buenos Aires.
It was a fitting welcome for a band that was well-established even before winning a Grammy for Fabulosos Calavera in 1998: Salsa queen Celia Cruz flew to Buenos Aires only to record two tracks with them; salsa great/actor Rubén, the Clash’s Mick Jones, Fishbone, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry collaborated with them, and Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth produced Rey Azúcar (1995). “Matador,” their biggest hit, was chosen as “one of the greatest rock songs in any language” by New York magazine, and MTV Latino gave them a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Yet, by their own standards, the uneven La Luz Del Ritmo, co-produced by the band and Robert Carranza (Los Lobos, Mars Volta, Jack Johnson) sounds like a parenthesis before the “real,” all-new album the band deserves.
“Yeah, it’s exactly like that,” admits Vicentico (aka Gabriel Fernández Capello), the singer and one of the two main creative forces in the band, by phone from Buenos Aires. “We usually take a year to record an album, but this one is all first takes, and none of the mixes took more than a day to complete. But we have lots of stuff, and we’d love to do a more profound album `of originals` as soon as we stop touring.”
The album consists of five new songs, two Spanish covers (the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and Ian Dury’s “Wake Up and Make Love With Me”), and five new versions of old songs, most notably a vastly improved “Padre Nuestro” (“Our Father,” originally released on Rey Azúcar), recorded with Damas Gratis, icons of a genre known as cumbia villera (shantytown cumbia, popular in Argentina). An instant hit, “Padre Nuestro” is another statement from a band that never hesitated to jump from ska and New Wave to tropical, even if that meant pissing off early die-hard fans.
“Make no mistake,” says Vicentico, himself a critically acclaimed solo artist ever since LFC took a 10-year hiatus. “I’m crazy about cumbia, and in the world of rock that’s sacrilegious. But I don’t care if they shoot me for saying that I like, say, some songs by `insufferable Mexican romantic icon` Christian Castro. The only thing that matters is the song.”
On the strength of their best work, the team of Vicentico and bassist Sr. Flavio (Cianciarullo, the author of “Matador”), with the vital help of producer K.C. Porter, transformed LFC from a bunch of jumping Specials sound- and look-alikes who struggled with their instruments into an all-around powerhouse who mastered the difficult art of dancing to irresistible rhythms coupled with socially conscious lyrics — something very few artists (like Blades) have successfully attempted in the past.
But beware: Now that the more-is-better formula proved successful, LFC seems ready to return to the basics.
“Right now, what we’re really into is to be more like the band we were when we started, a rock band,” said Vicentico. “We now have a lot more experience, and we play a little better than in the beginning, but we sound more like what we are — a ska band who also plays Latin music, yes, but it’s more like Latin punk.
“Who knows? We really don’t know for sure which direction we’re going to take. We liked everything from Latin stuff and the Clash, Ian Dury, and the Pistols to reggae, Talking Heads, and Television. That influenced how we sing, play, and even how we dressed. But `success` opened a new way of working for us: We work when we feel like it, and if we don’t feel like it we don’t work. That freedom makes us feel very happy and fortunate.” •