Re Revisited

By: Marcelo Báez

Twenty years ago, Café Tacvba released Re, their second full-length album, and one of the most important records of the ’90s. In my humble opinion, everything the Mexican band did in that decade, from their quirky self-titled debut to the experimental Revés/Yo Soy, is great, but Re remains particularly impressive. As a writer for the New York Times once stated, Cafeta’s sophomore LP is “the equivalent of the Beatles’ White Album for the rock en español movement.” While being compared to the Beatles is a huge compliment, that comparison would only make sense if Sparks had coproduced the White Album along with Mi Banda El Mexicano.

Solid songwriting and gobs of creativity made Re an amazing record, but what really propelled Café Tacvba to greatness was their own defiance of the rock en español label. Back when Caifanes, Soda Stereo and Héroes del Silencio wanted nothing but to forcibly sound like the English-singing bands they were constantly imitating (the Cure, the Police and the Cult, respectively), Café Tacvba took their inspiration from sources that no serious rock band wanted anything to do with.

To them everything (not just trendy bands and genres) was game, and that’s why Re shifted from metal (“El Borrego”), to boleros (“Esa Noche”), disco (“El Baile y el Salón”), banda (“El Fin de la Infancia”) tropical (“El Puñal y el Corazón”) and norteño (“Ingrata”) without a care in the world. Of course, Café Tacvba isn’t the first irreverent quartet to have curiously explored Mexican and Latin American folklore (that honor goes to Los Xochimilcas) but they certainly took it to another level.

The “Tacubos” (as they’re often referred to in the Mexican press) were essentially the alternative to the alternative because, in many ways, it was a lot more subversive and challenging to transform “grandpa” music (boleros and banda were considered deeply uncool by the ’90s alternative youth) into a battle cry, than to lazily churn out bland rock music. Much of this transformation was achieved by their specific treatment of the various genres, but also by writing smart, socially conscious lyrics along with silly, cunning lingo.

Unfortunately, after the ’90s Café Tacvba opted for a more conventional approach to music, and slowly turned into a prototypical rock band (note to musicians: drum-machine-based projects should never get real drummers). They’re not terrible, mind you, but they still haven’t matched the fresh, creative edginess that still emanates from Re—although, in terms of creativity, Revés/Yo Soy came pretty close.

But we’re here to cherish and reminisce, not to lament. Having grown up with this record—I borrowed my uncle’s tape copy when I was 12 years old—I still get excited when one of its tracks gets played by the music shuffle function on my smartphone. It’s a solid classic by a Café Tacvba, one of Latin America’s best bands.

LOGISTICS: Re by Café Tacvba, (still) available here

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.