Monday, April 21, 2008

No. 461: How Will the Wolf Survive?

Band: Los Lobos
Album: How Will the Wolf Survive?
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The first full album from East Los Angeles' Los Lobos is a neatly concocted combination of rock music and Latin music. Full of ranchera accordions and Mexican influences, "How Will the Wolf Survive?" is cleanly produced (by T-Bone Burnett) and fun.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The record is not necessarily great. The first two songs are pretty boring and if you don't have an ear for Mexican music, this record is not for you.
Best song: "I Got Loaded" is fun and the title track is smart and excellent.
Worst song: "I Got to Let You Know" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Maybe. I really don't know.

The history of Hispanic-Americans in rock and roll isn't super short, but in the same way AFrican-American music (hip hop, soul, R&B, etc.) is distinct from mainstream rock and roll, what is known as Latin music has never broken through into the mainstream. Richie Valens was an early rocker with Mexican roots. Certainly, Carlos Santana is one of the more famous Hispanic-Americans to incorporate Central American styles and music into his work, but he is mostly on an island. There was a bit of a Latin pop boom about 5-10 years ago, but that didn't really last.

Los Lobos are probably the only group -- save for Santana -- to have any semblance of success in adapting Mexican music into the full rock mainsteam. Unlike Santana, Los Lobos really wore their heritage on their sleeves, adding accordion and other Tejano elements into the songs.


The first two songs from "How Will the Wolf Survive?" lull the listener into thinking that the band is a simple rock band populated by Mexican-Americans, doing totally mainstream rock. Oh, no. The fourth song, "Our Last Night," is no different from the type of music I've heard living in Hispanic-American neighborhoods. It's full of accordions, the classic Tejano/Ranchera singing cadence and the Mexican rhythms. Though the lyrics are done in English -- a very bold move -- the music is classic Ranchera.

Like the white-boy-copping of Calexico, 15 years later, Los Lobos often sing about border topics. "Serenata Nortena" is a traditional Mexican folk song and "A Matter of Time" speaks to the border separation of lovers beautifully. The wonderful allegory of the title track is moving and cool.


As we move toward the end of this list, we'll see a lot of records like this one. Good ones, yes, but solely on the list because the magazine loved it or it symbolizes something or other. In this case, we have a record from a genre not represented on the list.


padraig said...

"As we move toward the end of this list, we'll see a lot of records like this one. Good ones, yes, but solely on the list because the magazine loved it or it symbolizes something or other"

yeah, but the last 50 records are probably way more interesting than the first 50. I guess that's true of any list of this type - the top might generate inspire more controversy from fans (as in "OMG! how could not rate ____ #1/put them in the top 10!") but it's so boring and predictable. Beatles/Stones, Jimi, Dylan, The Who & Zeppelin, Nevermind, a nod to black popular music via a couple classic soul records + Kind of Blue, Legend & a P.E. record as standins for their respective genres, blah blah blah. I mean, it's a boomer list, fine - Pitchfork would have more hip hop, My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and a bunch of classic Krautrock records in the mix but it'd be equally predictable. the cool surprises always happen with the fringe stuff at the end and anyone who cares enough about pop music to spend any time with a top 500 list is probably familiar with almost everything at the top anyway.

R.J. said...

Oh, absolutely. I think you make a great point.

Neal Pollack recently wrote a piece for decrying the meaningless sports lists that populate sports media today. On some level, music criticism has followed suit and RS heads that list.

But, not just the top 50, but compare the top 100 to the 400-500 albums. The early 400s have some brilliant albums, including both P.J. Harvey records on the list, "All Things Must Pass," the Devo record and such.

Anonymous said...

what? no mention of ? and the Mysterians? For shame.