Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Los Lobos

  • . . . And a Time to Dance [Slash EP, 1983] A-
  • How Will the Wolf Survive? [Slash, 1984] A
  • By the Light of the Moon [Slash, 1987] A-
  • La Pistola y El Corazon [Slash, 1988] B
  • The Neighborhood [Slash/Warner Bros., 1990] Neither
  • Kiko [Slash/Warner Bros., 1992] **
  • Colossal Head [Warner Bros., 1996] A
  • This Time [Hollywood, 1999] ***
  • Good Morning Aztlán [Mammoth, 2002] *
  • The Ride [Mammoth/Hollywood, 2004] **
  • Ride This [Mammoth/Hollywood, 2004] Dud
  • Wolf Tracks: The Very Best of Los Lobos [Rhino, 2006]  
  • The Town and the City [Hollywood/Mammoth, 2006] Choice Cuts
  • Native Sons [New West, 2021] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

. . . And a Time to Dance [Slash EP, 1983]
At first I suspected tokenism or worse, but that's because the solid craftsmanship of a committed club band only gathers full impact at LP length. Once I saw them--felt them, really, in my bones more than my soul--the suspicion that maybe hip white Angelenos were working off Chicano guilt never entered my mind again. I just wondered whether there weren't more where they came from, and decided that finding competitors of equal chops, breadth, and reach would be pretty tough, especially with young Mexican-Americans so heavily into metal. Good old rock and roll East L.A. style, with a lope Doug Sahm fans will recognize long before Joe "King" Carrasco fans. A-

How Will the Wolf Survive? [Slash, 1984]
This takes generic to a whole different level. Where their EP was a straightforward account of a world-class bar band in command of what we'll call Chicano r&b, a relatively specialized indigenous style with unexploited mass potential, their debut LP makes it sound as if they invented the style. Who did the original of that one, you wonder, only to discover that you're listening to the original. Listen a little more and you figure out that these slices of dance music have lyrics, lyrics rooted in an oppression the artists really know about--the love songs return incessantly to the separation that defines migrant laborers' lives. And from the moment you hear "I Got Loaded" you'll know that while Cesar Rosas is merely a generic singer in the best sense, David Hidalgo is some kind of tenor. A

By the Light of the Moon [Slash, 1987]
These guys are a world-class band. If they want to go Motown, who wouldn't? If they want to downplay the accordion, they have the guitars to compensate. But if they think pop means compassionate generalizations after the manner of John Cougar Mellencamp, they're selling themselves short. Though they're less confused for sure, with a gift for snapshot images that suggest the dimensions of suffering in this trouble land of ours, only on "The Hardest Time" do they drive that suffering all the way home. Leaving us with world-class jukebox grooves and vocals and some affecting protest songs. A-

La Pistola y El Corazon [Slash, 1988]
This tastefully modernized tour of their Mexican roots is admirably uncommercial and more than pleasant, but without imputing "reverence" or some other backhand insult, I'll mention that I prefer Rounder's ˇConjunto! albums because they're faster. Or put it this way: usually, strange music is most efficiently conveyed by strangers. B

The Neighborhood [Slash/Warner Bros., 1990] Neither

Kiko [Slash/Warner Bros., 1992]
sounds great, but still--one song about angels, one about rain, one about a dream, one about a train ("Kiko and the Lavender Moon," "Saint Behind the Glass") **

Colossal Head [Warner Bros., 1996]
Set on proving how big a band from East L.A. could rock, they painted themselves into a cornball corner until Tchad Blake lured two of them out with his cache of found sounds. Result: Latin Playboys, impressionistic fragments coalescing into a self-sustaining aural counterreality. And although this return to their primary identity masquerades manfully as an arena-ready song collection, neither the one about rain nor the one about trains convinces me they'll ever revert. From enchanted-island salsa to Santana solo, from revolutionary disillusion to feeling happy anyway, their infinitely absorptive eclecticism feels blessed rather than bombarded. They're not dealing with it, they're digging it. And if you're as big as they are you will too. A

This Time [Hollywood, 1999]
chewing their cud for one album too long ("Oh, Yeah," "Corazon") ***

Good Morning Aztlán [Mammoth, 2002]
back to basics, all because, no kidding, "things are not the way they used to be" ("Good Morning Aztlán," "Maria Cristina") *

The Ride [Mammoth/Hollywood, 2004]
From Chicano r&b to Chicano bricolage and most of the way back, with famous friends pointing the way ("Kitate," "Hurry Tomorrow") **

Ride This [Mammoth/Hollywood, 2004] Dud

Wolf Tracks: The Very Best of Los Lobos [Rhino, 2006]
Although they surfaced on the punkoid Slash label and got all trip-hoppy in their Latin Playboys side project, at bottom these East L.A. winners of a 2001 Billboard lifetime achievement award are one of the strongest straight-ahead rock bands of the past quarter century. In a sense their most important member is their most obscure: bassist Conrad Lozano, implacably anchoring blues, boogie, polka, two-step, corrida, and what-have-you variants on a solid four-four rhythm. With a brief detour into Mexican folkloricism, which doesn't mean "La Bamba," this 20-year, 20-song overview has a groove that's Latin mostly by way of spicing, accent, and aura. It's an assimilationist showpiece that proves Mexican-Americans are as American as any other kind--except that some of them write much better songs. [Blender: 4]  

The Town and the City [Hollywood/Mammoth, 2006]
Billed as a song cycle about a Chicano's epic journey from Mexican valley to neon metropolis--something like that--the East L.A. Grammy winners' 10th studio album may suit old fans but won't convert any new ones. Slightly stolid even at their best, these veteran roots-rockers have never been slower--they sound tired, depressed. There's subtlety aplenty in the singing and especially the guitar, for which credit both player David Hidalgo and mixer Tchad Blake. But unless you count the cumbia, not one song rocks out. And apart from the laid-back "Free Up," where the subtlety renders an apparent throwaway seductive with time, not one stands out either.
"Free Up" Choice Cuts

Native Sons [New West, 2021]
Five white-haired longhairs revisit East L.A.'s '60s, horn section well in hand ("Bluebird," "The World Is a Ghetto") ***

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