Maná is the most popular, best-selling Spanish-language pop-rock group of all time, and also the most lambasted by critics such as myself (If they rock live, why can’t they rock in the studio?). The band’s first studio album in five years offers the usual radio-friendly syrup and a mixed bag of average love lyrics and below-average socially conscious messages (the “Let’s fight, Latinos”-type of stuff in “Latinoamérica,” for example), but it also offers hope. The epic “El espejo” (The mirror), with its crunching guitars and “Eleanor Rigby”-like strings, and the Gregorian chants at the beginning of the beautiful, religious-themed “Sor María” (a trademark Maná ballad) indicate that not only are the guys not finished, but they’re getting better with age. The problem with Maná is that they still haven’t been able to make a superb album from beginning to end. Personal tastes aside, it is a fact that ever since their 1992 mega-selling ¿Dónde jugarán los niños? (the eco-conscious “Where will the children play?”) Maná became a dynamite live rock band. But while capable of writing truly great songs, it seems like they are unable to let go of their radio addiction — they go from gems like the hard-rocking “El dragón” (The Dragon) to throwaway ballads like “Amor clandestino” (Clandestine love). And yet, the playing and the self-production is so great that they get away with murder, as they’ve been doing for years. Yes, you have the usual syrupy ballads, but the key tracks are among the best they’ve ever written. C’mon, what do you expect? King Crimson? This is Maná, for God’s sake. They’re a great pop band (“pop” in the good sense of the word) who can outplay most rockers live and who can still write songs that touch a nerve. I just wish they could do it all the time. Though it’s not an easy task, a band of Maná’s status could and should pull it off. If anything, Drama y luz (Drama and light) should silence those who were writing Maná off — the album is already number one in the Latin American and U.S. Latin market, and will continue selling truckloads of copies. And the formula remains the same: mirrors and colored beads for the masses, and a few bars of real gold for those who bitch.
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