Puerto Rico duo's album was originally expected March 1
Calle 13’s new album “Multi_Viral,” which had been announced for March 1, is available now from iTunes and other digital stores.
The release follows a concert that the group, led by the outspoken rapper René Pérez (Residente) and musician and producer Eduardo Cabra (Visitante), gave earlier this week in Puerto Rico for a crowd of a reported 50,000 people. The “Multi_Viral” world tour starts this weekend in Buenos Aires, where concertgoers will receive a free download of the album with their ticket.
The title track of the album, which features a spoken word passage from Wikileaks’ Julian Assange as well as Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello on guitar, was propelled to the public via Twitter last November. Those familiar with that head-banging, electronically-charged protest song may be surprised at the softer directions the album takes, along with displays of Pérez’s characteristically fierce idealism and the biting humor that is his greatest charm. “Multi_Viral” even includes a quiet love ballad, “Ojos Color Sol,” which Pérez sings with Cuban singer/songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, an icon of the symbolic conscious song.
Calle 13 teams with another Latin American revolutionary in Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author of “Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina” (Open Veins of Latin America), the biting 1971 book that is considered required reading for anyone interested in the real history of the region. In a curious introduction over a Beatlesesque background, Galeano opens the album with an anecdote about the human need to hug that really is -- pardon the pun -- touching.
“I invite you to stroll down Calle 13,” he says in Spanish, in a sincere storyteller-esque voice. “I assure you that you are going to have a very good time.”
By aligning himself with figures like Assange, Rodríguez and Galeano, who have courted both reverence and controversy, Pérez presents himself as their heir. In his acknowledged search for learning, he’s increasingly traded swagger for social criticism, with lyrics that put a lot more on the line than in the early days of the group, when he based a song on making fun of P. Diddy (and fun it was).
Calle 13 fans may immediately adopt new tracks like “Aguante,” the smartly-chosen second single, which echoes the group’s earlier sound and whose lyrics are both thought-provoking and anthem-ready. The intense, soul-bearing ”Adentro,” revives a bit of the reggaeton vibe that Calle 13 was first known for, in a rap and roots musical mix with a symphonic crescendo. (Look for the video coming soon with a cameo by baseball great Willie Mays.) Meanwhile, the lyrics of the boisterous “Los Idiotas” are already being quoted on Twitter.
On “Multi_Viral,” Cabra, Calle 13’s quiet man, emerges from behind the curtain. Cabra combines acoustic and electronic, rock, hip hop, pop and folkloric rhythms, which here extend to Celtic and Baltic music, as well as the more expected Latin American beats. Cabra previously expanded his musical consciousness on a trek through South America with Pérez while reflecting on the duo’s 2010 album “Entren los Que Quieran.” On “Multi-Viral,” he shows off his talent for orchestral maneuvers that synthesize far-reaching sounds.
Notable are the bluesy rap “Gato Que Avanza Perro Que Ladra” and the traditional “Cuando los Pies Besan el Piso.” Like Pérez’s lyrics at times, the music can feel didactic, as does an interlude with Native American sound healer Vernon Foster, which is interesting but feels forced. A reggae track with Biga Ranx, though done well, feels out of place and unnecessary among the 15 tracks on the album.
If “Multi-Viral” declares Pérez’s commitment to social causes and freewheeling freedom of expression perhaps more fervently and with more nuance than before, it also consecrates Calle 13 -- the Latin GRAMMY record-holding group -- as a great Latin American rock band.
And like the songs of other great rock bands, the ones on this album will be best heard performed live at an arena concert, music’s equivalent of a massive hug.