For rock en espan~ol fans, the time has come to enjoy the fruits of the support they've given two bands for more than 15 years.
When the debut efforts by Argentine groups Soda Stereo and Fabulosos Cadillacs were released in the early '80s, few could have guessed that somewhere down the line the artists in both outfits would end up making music of the highest caliber.
At its inception, Soda Stereo was a minimalist trio obsessed with the most superficial aspects of British new wave music. Fabulosos Cadillacs were instrumentally sloppy, lyrically coarse and excessively influenced by ska. One of the group's first hits was titled "My Girlfriend Fell in a Septic Tank."
But the Cadillacs' new album and the first solo project by ex-Soda Stereo singer Gustavo Cerati demonstrate what can happen when an artist is given time to grow and change.
The two albums have a lot in common. They are both intimate endeavors whose strongest moments are their moody ballads. Both employ a symphony orchestra, and both are likely to be ranked among this year's 10 best Latin recordings.
Neither the Cadillacs' "La Marcha del Golazo Solitario" nor Cerati's "Bocanada" is the kind of masterpiece that defines a whole genre. But both of them are fascinating works, marked by a poetic aura that unites them despite their stylistic differences.
The pressure on Fabulosos Cadillacs was enormous as they recorded "La Marcha del Golazo Solitario" (the title is a piece of complicated wordplay involving soccer and solitary marches). Their previous release, 1997's "Fabulosos Calavera," was the first rock en espan~ol record to win a Grammy and is one of the genre's best efforts.
Originally, the plans were to follow "Calavera" with a double CD. The band had visions of a concert with spectacle resembling musical theater that would push the envelope of experimentation.
But something happened on the way to the studio. Sources say that BMG Latin, the band's label, was upset by the poor sales of "Calavera" and pressured the group to return the sound of "Matador," the 1995 single that put the Cadillacs on the commercial map.
Label representatives declined to comment, but whatever caused the change in plans, "La Marcha" is an exquisite record. If "Calavera" was all about the bravado of a rock group that has achieved instrumental mastery, "La Marcha" couldn't care less about impressing its audience. It's the least self-conscious chapter in the Cadillacs' book so far.
Unlike "Calavera," which left no stone unturned in the process of scavenging musical genres, "La Marcha" stays rooted in one major influence: the school of sentimental pop that flourished in the late '60s and early '70s, taking lounge music to a supreme level of emotionalism. The album's sweeping "C.J." sounds uncannily similar to the hits by Brazilian crooner Roberto Carlos. And the jazz con funk of "Cebolla" echoes early albums by Mexican singer Jose Jose.
Lyrically, the record is supported by the contrasting styles of its principal songwriters, singer Gabriel Fernandez Capello and bassist Flavio Cianciarulo. Capello's compositions are dark and abstract. Cianciarulo, on the other hand, is in a decidedly optimistic mood.
His opening "La Vida" is the kind of bittersweet meditation on life you would expect from a vintage bossa nova tune, something straight out of "Black Orpheus." "Oh, life/We all want to touch the sky," Cianciarulo tells us before giving positive feedback on the unwritten laws of fate and karma. Similarly, "Vos Sabes" (You Know) is a simple poem conveying the fulfillment that comes with parenthood.
Elsewhere, "La Marcha" still betrays the afterthoughts of the "Calavera" experience. "El Baile del Mar" could easily be a throwaway track from those sessions, and "La Rosca" continues the band's obsession with Argentine tango. But the closing instrumental "Alamo" is the most sentimental piece of music ever put to record by the group.
Cerati's "Bocanada," also on BMG Latin , is a little more on the flashy side. Recorded at the singer's home studio in Buenos Aires, it continues the exploration of electronica he pushed for in the last few records by Soda Stereo, a group known for its catchy pop songs.
"During the years before Soda Stereo split up, I was listening to a lot of instrumental music," Cerati, 39, said recently. "At the beginning, the other members in the group didn't quite understand the direction I was so adamant about following."
It only makes sense that Cerati would find inspiration in electronica, the latest movement to emerge from Britain. After all, Soda Stereo wouldn't have existed without such English groups as the Cure and the Smiths to inspire its music and look.
"I remember when the Police came to play live in Argentina," Cerati said. "They were only three guys, but they had such a big sound. And at the same time, what they did was so simple. I didn't receive such an injection of enthusiasm until the electronica scene came to be. When I saw the Orb live, I was blown away."
If Soda Stereo's early albums smacked of imitation, Cerati has learned to incorporate influences into his own experiences. Samples and all, there's nothing artificial about his album.
"Bocanada" begins with "Tabu," a track defined by a festive, carnival sort of sample. "It's like a jungle thing, but on top of that you have a heroic-sounding tune, almost like a cowboy song," Cerati said. "I was looking for that sort of explosive contrast."
But the high point is "Verbo Carne," with the London Symphony Orchestra joining in for what sounds like a cross between a James Bond theme song and a Massive Attack single. In fact, Massive collaborator Gavin Wright conducted the orchestra.
"The changes in my music weren't realized from one day to the other," Cerati explained when asked about his development. "Now I understand how to compose a song better, how to be myself, less tortured and obsessive than before. It's been a 15-year-long process."