Monday, June 28, 2010

Los Lobos: Colossal Head (1996)

(As published in the Illinois Entertainer ... )

Los Lobos
Colossal Head
(Warner Bros.)

For this album's first five songs, Los Lobos rummage through their bag of time-tested east-L.A. rhythms and riffs, tweaking it a little here (the eerily detached narrator of "Everybody Loves a Train"), relaxing it a little there (the loose-limbed funk of "Revolution"), and filtering it all through an unusually murky mix that emphasizes both Conrad Lozano's bass and Steve Berlin's down-and-dirty sax. Then everything gets weird. "Life Is Good" pays tribute to la vida buena so lazily that it sounds as if the band recorded it after a big meal and ten minutes past siesta time, and what follows that sounds like the music they dreamed about after they nodded off. From the good-timey, War-like "Little Japan" and the metaphysically acute but equally slow-motion "Manny's Bones" to the not-so-metaphysically acute but equally slow motion title track and "This Bird's Gonna Fly," the music grinds on so sluggishly, sleepily, sensuously, and shamblingly that it's all the fellas can do to get through the disc-ending instrumental "Buddy Ebsen Loves the Night Time" without falling apart altogether. The odd thing is, you can't really call this somnambulant suite unpleasant--just strange. Or maybe "unfocused," except unfocused albums aren't supposed to be any fun, and this one is fun as only deconstructivist barrio jukebox music can be. You don't suppose Los Lobos could've gotten their "reified" and "refried" beans confused, do you?

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