One, that Ry Cooder’s commitment to bringing the intricacies of Cuban music and some if its most talented musicians to light with the Buena Vista Social Club albums hipped the general public to the concept of “world music,” and they liked it.
Another, that rockers of all stripes simply can’t pass up the opportunity to take part in a good old-fashioned “save the planet” benefit album. And maybe that, inevitably, these two concepts would find themselves combined and packaged for mass consumption — globally conscious consumption, mind you, not the gluttony and greed kind.
There’s a lot that works on Rhythms Del Mundo. Leading the pack is the ingenious pairing of Arctic Monkeys and Buena Vista Social Club in an utterly vicious reading of “Dancing Shoes.” Percolating Latin percussion and snotty British attitude never mixed so sweetly, which is surprising since I really didn’t dig the Monkeys so much the first time around. But here, with the Strokes and Hives affectations drowned out by trumpets, timbales and clanging guitars, the song takes on an entirely new and fascinating character.
Coldplay’s mega hit “Clocks” gets the royal overhaul too, morphing the familiar piano intro into a loping samba that fits the tune amazingly well, albeit in a very strange way. Ever had a friend that shaved off their eyebrows and dyed their hair neon green, yet somehow it worked in their favor? Same kind of thing.
While there are many more pluses here than minuses, some tunes — U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Radiohead’s “High And Dry” come to mind — come across sounding a little half baked. The intent is there, but when the sample of Bono and co. pops up in the chorus it just doesn’t jive with the rest of the song. Of course, getting the boys from Dublin into the studio to redo the chorus to better fit this new framework was probably a bit cost prohibitive, so to a degree it’s forgivable. Kind of.
The same goes for “High And Dry,” which would’ve fared much better without the grainy sample from the original buried in the mix. I mean, we KNOW it’s a Radiohead song, so unless Yorke and Greenwood were willing to come in and actually add something personally to this version, the snippet of the guitar solo used here comes across as an unnecessary attempt to gild a perfectly fine lily.
But this criticism could be missing the point. Rhythms Del Mundo has a loftier goal than mere musical fulfillment — the idea came about via project founder Kenny Young’s reaction to the tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in December of 2004. What grew from that idea was an organization called Artist’s Project Earth (APE) with an expanded scope: providing international disaster relief and increasing public understanding of global climate change and its impact on our world. In view of all this, whining about a few bungled tunes on RDM seems awfully insignificant.
So Dido, Jack Johnson and Maroon 5 seem right at home here, probably because the original versions of their tunes were the most ripe for recasting in new light. The contributions of Omara Portundo and Abrahim Ferrer, performing “Killing Me Softly” and “As Time Goes By” respectively, provide the listener the most authentic reminders of the fertile Cuban roots from which the music grows. And Sting, God love him, he’s here too with “Fragilidad.” I was hoping for something from Ghosts In The Machine, but alas... not to be.
Rhythms Del Mundo is good. It’s a fun listen, and even when it doesn’t work so well musically, it manages to be entertaining in a head scratching “what the heck was that?” kind of way. But on a grander scale, it’s the first of what hopefully will be many projects that pair intriguing musical manipulation with the basic human need to simply do the right thing — in this case, saving the ever spinning, watery little mudball we call Earth.