Rodrigo Y Gabriela aren’t afraid to experiment with boundaries. Notoriously rising through the ranks from a trash metal band to busking on the streets of Mexico City, the duo persevered, eventually making their name in the pubs and bars of Dublin. Their vibrant talent eventually led to an international presence, culminating in a headline slot at Glastonbury Festival in 2010. All the while they embellished, practiced and perfected their frantic Latino rock until it reached astronomical proportions.
Besides their collaboration with Hans Zimmer on the new Pirates of the Caribbean score, this is the first we’ve heard from Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero since July’s bootleg album Live in France. To a mere mortal their next development was never obvious, but few could have predicted their collaboration with a Cuban orchestra (aptly named C.U.B.A.) on Area 52, a re-working of nine original songs.
The results aren’t encouraging. Instead of offering an interesting cultural angle on Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s music, Area 52 slumps towards the mundane. The slapped heartbeat of guitar still indicates the ferocious skill with which Rodrigo Y Gabriela play, but the brass and faff that envelops Area 52 diminishes the music’s potential and makes a mockery of the original recordings. It’s equivalent to an icon brutally ruining a live performance of classics in the name of artistic licence, except in this case Rodrigo Y Gabriela have carved their mistake into their back catalogue.
While it may alienates their current fan base, Area 52 is just as unlikely to attract a new audience. The album fails to produce anything noteworthy, narrowly avoiding the lounge-jazz tag but mimicking the background jabber found on BBC One’s travel programme Holiday. It’s only practical application would be to help keep up appearances at a middle-class dinner party, although even then the guests probably, and justifiably wouldn’t pay it their full attention.
Area 52‘s only strength is that of the composition of the songs in their classic format, and despite some heavy overcrowding their genius continues to shine through the Cuban dynamic. Rodrigo Y Gabriela may have intended to showcase a different skill here, but instead they’ve confirmed they would be better off sticking to what they do best.