Record Review - 1 September 11 2003

The impulse to categorize Mexico's Cafe Tacuba in relation to American and English artists for the benefit of English-speaking audiences is understandable. It's also completely misguided, given the easy comparisons some critics have embraced. Radiohead? Well, sure, Cuatro Caminos (Four Roads) does sport some lush art-rock washes — most notably in the sweep and swirl of "Mediodía." The Clash? Yes, admittedly. "Que Pasará" and "Recuerdo Prestado" march along jagged, reggae/punk guitar spikes that recall Mick Jones' classic six-string vitriol.

But on Caminos, easily the most polished and accessible of its six albums to date, Cafe Tacuba incorporates varied stylistic swatches into its sound with an assured air that too few of its Anglo contemporaries can match. This uniformity, despite the Whitman's Sampler of approaches, is all the more remarkable given that Caminos was recorded by three very different producers: established collaborator Gustavo Santaolalla, Dave Fridmann (the Flaming Lips) and Andrew Weiss (Ween). Or maybe it's not so remarkable: The latter two, after all, are accustomed to working with artists with an impish disregard for self-imposed genre limitations, and Santaolalla is no stranger to Tacuba's ambitious grasp.

That shared questing spirit is quite pronounced, from the sly Zooropa nod of "Cero y Uno" to the epic collision of native folk whispers and arena-rock gestures that highlights "Hoy Es." While it lacks the grand sense of prog-rock ambition that fueled earlier efforts, Cuatro Caminos serves as Cafe Tacuba's defining statement so far, assimilating the band's influences within the context of a beguiling, multicultural whole.

Cafe Tacuba plays the Roxy Thurs., Sept. 18. $27.50.