The Town And The City
Hollywood Records, 2006
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/25/2010
Consistency can have a nasty way of backfiring on a band, especially if the band is Los Lobos. If you’re inconsistent like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, you get a huge resurgence of acclaim and interest when you release a great album after a series of mediocre albums. But if you’re Los Lobos and you release solid album after solid album, some of their later releases are met with a little more than a shrug from the mainstream community. It’s almost like critics expect it to be good, so why reward the band for consistency?
It’s not like Los Lobos is like Pearl Jam, who have released a series of well-regarded albums but even their most vocal of fans will admit the band has not excelled in the risk-taking department. Colossal Head, This Time, and Good Morning Aztlan had plenty of quirky moments that few rock bands would dare try to replicate. But even the band’s experimentation seems to be greeted with a shrug in the mainstream music press.
The band has qualified for the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame for more than five years, and judging by the lack of mentions of the band for induction (hell, if The Stooges took this long to get inducted, how long will it take for this band?), it looks like Los Lobos’ status as one of America’s most crucially underrated bands will continue. Which is unfortunate, given that if The Town And The City were to have been released by Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, or Bob Dylan, it would have been widely regarded as one of the finest rock albums of the last decade.
The Town And The City isn’t necessarily a political album, more like a novel whose theme revolves around immigration. In the driving “The Road To Gila Bend,” the song’s main character starts out in Nogales and slowly creeps to Tucson. “Can they see me coming? Do they know I’m running?” David Hidalgo sings.
Music and lyrics-wise, this is the best Los Lobos album to come out of the pike since their 1992 classic Kiko. While the latter album mixed dreamy mysticism and hard-charging blues, The Town and the City is more straightforward. Hidalgo’s guitar, along with the guitar work of Louie Perez and Cesar Rosas, produce some great rockers, namely on “Gila Bend” and “Two Dogs And A Bone.” The ballads, namely “If You Were Only Here Tonight” and the Spanish-spoken “Luna,” have a richness that only comes with being in the same band for almost 30 years.
The band’s full talents converge on “The City,” a smoky, swirling account of a night in a city. Steve Berlin’s keyboards lightly brush over the guitars and Perez’s drumming leaves just enough room for the song’s dark, sultry mood. A lighthearted party vibe rubs right up against something more sinister in lines like “Two lovers kissing by the door / There’s yelling from the second floor” and “Come on let’s fall down tonight / Shoot out all the neon lights.” In the span of about four minutes, the song almost reads like a novella.
If there is one bum track on the album, it would be “Little Things.” It’s a good attempt at a ballad, but the vagueness of lines like “Little things all around me / Little things that I could never see” are just too general for even a band like Los Lobos to make affecting. But that song’s flaws are quickly forgotten as the album drives to its beautiful title track closing song.
The theme of immigration is evident on the title track and especially on “The Valley” and “Gila Bend,” but the band wisely avoids taking sides. Instead, they just tells stories and moves on to the next song. It’s the mark of a band that after 30 years is content in remaining consistent but restless enough to avoid settling. The liner notes state “Los Lobos still are: David Hidalgo, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, and Steve Berlin.” It’s a wry wink to anyone who may have forgotten about this band. If they keep releasing albums like The Town And The City, hopefully they won’t need to remind anyone they’re still kicking up dust.