Monte Negro – Cicatrix
Release Date: August 21, 2007
Record Label: Feed the Hungry Records
There is a commonly held belief that music is a truly transcendent art form where the best songs, albums, and artists are able to attain a universal, worldwide appeal. And it takes little more than a step inside a club in Puerto Vallarta to see the gyrating masses or witnessing the throngs of screaming fans of the latest American pop star in Japan to realize that this is indeed true. Then alas, it should not serve as a deterrent to hear that Monte Negro’s debut LP, Cicatrix, is a bilingual fusion of both English and Spanish textures – but instead, should offer up a challenge to those with an open mind to experience something a little off the well-worn path of traditional pop/rock.
Since Monte Negro might be a decade late for the so-called “Latin Invasion” where they would have surely struck gold, there is the lingering question – are they worth consideration after a long-dismissed fad has run its course? The answer is “yes” but it is an affirmative nod that comes with its caveats.
While Cicatrix might seem like an easy record to categorize and lump into a cluster with the thousands of others that preceded it during the Ricky Martin Era, a sit-down with the record proves otherwise. Instead, Monte Negro’s debut collection is a surprisingly diverse clump of tunes that borrow from the best elements of an assortment of world-genres. For example, the group switches between straight-up Latin pop (“Arde El Corazon”) to a seductive jazz/rock hybrid (“Amor Finito”) and on to a reggae-steeped English number (“Give Me Love”). And that is just in the first three songs. Later tracks delve into rock-oriented jams (“No One Knows”) and all-out pop anthems (“The Part Of Me You’ve Thrown Away”).
As a band with members who have consistently turned away their Latin heritage, it is ironic then to see that the band’s greatest songs are those that embrace this ethnic flavor so wholly. The infectious handclaps, soft acoustic chords, and hypnotic, sweeping vocals of “Pena Colectiva” bring together the right ingredients to inspire me to sing along in my endearing combination of jibberish and Spanglish. Just as strong then, is the undeniably sexy pulse of “Lejos (Me Gusta).” Now, understand me here – I fucking hate to dance, but the mix of come-hither guitar notes, just-breathy-enough vocals, a driving drum kick, and a sighing, sugary hook all make me want to get up and make an ass of myself on the dance floor.
Of course, while Cicatrix is indeed slick at times, they also have their stumbling points, primarily when the songs switch into English. Some lyrics are nothing shy of grimace-worthy, and all too often, the cuts roam away from anything eye-opening and fresh into traditional pop turf. As the type of album that could indeed serve as a bridge to introduce mainstream folks to something a little more worldly, these are indeed unfortunate, as they are tough to overlook turnoffs.
In the end, despite its shortcomings, Monte Negro’s Cicatrix seems ready for the bigtime, and has plenty of strong points that make it well worth a listen for open-minded music fans ready to step outside the bounds of what they’d normally expose themselves to. If you are ready for a sampling of smooth Latin pop that tosses in a healthy smattering of worldwide influence, this record is certainly worth a look.