If you think ”world beat” is code for ”weird-sounding foreign music that has nothing to do with my life,” Manu Chao’s third solo CD, La Radiolina, just might turn your thinking around a full 180. Like the Clash circa Sandinista!, this France-bred artist is in top form here, catapulting easily from rock to reggae to rai and into genres as yet uncharted (check out the bizarro spaghetti-Western hoedown ”Besoin de la Lune”). And though he sings mostly in French or Spanish, Chao’s music is so sonically vivid, so gloriously evocative, translation seems almost superfluous.
If you live in France, Spain or Latin America, you will know Manu Chao as a world-music pop superstar, the man who mixed languages and rhythms to create such glorious, slinky songs as Clandestino, and transformed the lives of Amadou and Mariam by producing and co-writing their hit album. Now he's back with a solo set packed with songs or song fragments (there are 21 tracks squeezed into 52 minutes) that switch between French, Spanish, English and even Italian, and from dub reggae and flamenco balladry to exuberant bursts of guitar rock. There are some great songs here, including the infuriatingly catchy Politik Kills along with the swirling catalogue of global problems, Rainin in Paradize, and the charmingly upbeat Besoin de la Lune.
On the occasion of his previous studio release, 2001's translucent Proxima Estación Esperanza, in an interview with trendsetting indie wire KCRW, Manu Chao's globe-trotting existence had brought him to the conclusion that, "There's not a place where things are going better." At least hope – Esperanza – floats on said sophomore solo disc. Six tortuous years later, not a thing has gotten better, and a darker world clouds La Radiolina, which most resembles Chao's 2002 live Radio Bemba Sound System in its patchwork approach to song, tempo, and politicizing. That's Euro-folk, skank, and Mano Negra, respectively.