Friday, January 14, 2011

Retconned Out Of Existence: Café Tacuba's "Revés"

I have no love for Warner Music Group, the gargantuan family of record labels that has accused itself of copyright infringement, but I've felt particularly rankled by one of the label's recent decisions. It's a reissue that demonstrates greed, foolishness, or ignorance, and maybe all three.

Café Tacuba, the Mexican rock band, are one of my favorite groups. Since 1992, when the band released their first album, los tacubanos have crafted some of the richest, most engaging music on the planet. Their relatively recent Sino took on classic rock, and they typically fuse art-rock with traditional Mexican music. I've seen the group compared to Beck, The Beastie Boys, Talking Heads, Radiohead, and The Beatles. It's a credit to Café Tacuba's eclecticism, evolution, and stature that all of these comparisons have some merit.

Anyways, in late 2009 the Warner subsidy WEA Latina reissued the group's 1999 disc, Yo Soy. The single-album reissue was a strange move, since Yo Soy was originally released as one half of the double album Revés/Yo Soy. The reissue appeared to celebrate Yo Soy's tenth anniversary, and came with new album art and the requisite remaster. But that seemed idiotic--why no Revés?

In the past ten years, the Revés/Yo Soy CDs have become a collector's item--in mint condition they can fetch $200, and it's pretty difficult to find even a shitty copy for less than thirty bucks. How this came to be I can't say. Online vendors claim that it's rare, but I'm skeptical--I assume it was mass-produced, by earth's largest record conglomerate, in Mexico and the U.S., barely ten years ago. Revés/Yo Soy was reviewed in Time magazine, and won a Latin Grammy, but has somehow become scarce enough to justify a three-figure asking price.

Maybe WEA rushed out Yo Soy to fill this void, but retconning Revés out of existence was the wrong way to do it. While the two discs are substantially different, and originally arrived in separate jewel cases, their very titles ask for them to be considered as a piece. Revés translates as reverse, and Yo Soy is a palindrome, spelled the same forwards and backwards. The CDs actually identify themselves as disc one and disc two of the same set. And Yo Soy's "La Muerte Chiquita," a minor hit in Mexico, reappears as "M.C." on Revés.

The difference between the Revés and Yo Soy versions of the same song illustrates another point: the halves of the double album are quite different. Yo Soy contains the pop songs, breezy and subdued. There's some weird stuff, for sure--the lovely "Bicicleta" is 2 minutes and 36 seconds long, but split into 26 seamless tracks, and a few of Revés' motifs make an appearance--but it's the Warner-neglected disc that's really far out.

Revés is 50 minutes of instrumental music. It eludes easy description, but the playful experimentalism of Café Tacuba is on full display throughout. The planes of sound on opener "11" (most song titles are arbitrary numbers) fit together like one of Diego Rivera's Cubist canvases. On "2," Café Tacuba appropriate the ambiance and Carlos Alomar guitar of Bowie's Berlin-era instrumentals, infusing them with their jumpy melodicism. Aggressive drum circles appear throughout the album--"10" features nothing else, save for some whooshing effects and a vocal sample towards the end. Songs take idiosyncratic turns: acoustic guitar will be joined, then overwhelmed, by airy backdrops, and the abrasive passages and percussive breakdowns approximate the electronica of the day. "M.C." doesn't even feature Café Tacuba--it's a cover of "La Muerte Chiquita" by The Kronos Quartet.

Revés isn't Café Tacuba's best album, but it's a rich listen. It illuminates not just Yo Soy, but also points towards the stranger moments on 2003's Cuatro Caminos, sometimes called the group's Kid A. And Revés could stand on its own, were it ever released that way.

Artistic intent and fidelity to the original release aren't everything, but I see no reason why WEA Latina would neglect Revés, which is not commercially available in 2010, even on iTunes. Here's an instance in which a major label forces fans to illegally download an album simply to hear it. To which I say: fuck Warner Music Group, fuck WEA Latina, fuck the botched Yo Soy rerelease. I'm going to go listen to Revés/Yo Soy.


  1. Did you make the image, or is it some kind of prophetic commentary by the band about the omnipotence of Warner Music Group?


  2. That's the actual cover art, but it's pretty perfect. "Yo Soy" had it's own cover art, but the rerelease is weirdly similar to the "Reves" CD: