A Party Band Goes Deep
To recover from the huge success of their remakes of "La Bamba" and "Come On, Let's Go" that were featured in a 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic, the East Los Angeles rock band Los Lobos tore off in extreme directions. First they tried snarly loud rock, then quaint Mexican folk song. Eventually they wound up in the slightly spooky netherworld that is Kiko.
A loosely interlaced set of dream sequences dedicated to stolen pleasures and the challenges of living "on the short side of nothing," Kiko is the crowning achievement in the Los Lobos oeuvre, the record that balances the rowdy barrio attitude of their early music against deeper, more reflective elegies. When work on it began, the members of Los Lobos had a single goal: to create music that was fundamentally different from anything they'd done before. The first move was to hire producers Mitchell Froom (who brought along vintage tape-loop keyboards and other odd noisemakers) and Tchad Blake, who'd been part of a Lobos side project, the Latin Playboys. Drummer Louis Perez recalled that Froom and Blake "were coming off a giant hit with Crowded House, and wanted to do something new, too. So we threw away the formulas and surrendered to intuition."
The songs of Kiko were not prepared in advance, as had been the band's custom; they were written in the studio. Rather than build everything around a steady beat, Froom cultivated thick atmospheres, and encouraged the Los Lobos primary songwriting team, Perez and guitarist David Hidalgo, to use those as a starting point. As a result, some slower songs float along, wrapped in haunting shrouds of heavy-tremolo electric guitar, and even the barreling good-time stomps, like "That Train Don't Stop Here," carry a shadowy undertone. Inspired by the less-restrictive settings, the songwriters came up with image-rich songs, three-minute shots of magic realism. These are made compelling by the utterly amazing guitarist and singer Hidalgo, whose weeping leads and wincing vocals speak the universal language of the blues—with none of the blues clichés.
Released: 1992, Slash/Warner Bros.
Key Tracks: "Angels with Dirty Faces," "Wake Up Dolores," "Kiko and the Lavender Moon," "That Train Don't Stop Here."
Catalog Choice: How Will the Wolf Survive?
Next Stop: The Latin Playboys: The Latin Playboys
After That: X: Wild Gift
Book Page: 453