Oveja Negra, Chile ****1/2
by Juan Manuel Torreblanca
¿Qué le pasa a Pedro? ¿what’s wrong with him? Well, judging by his debut solo album, I could offer three answers. Número uno: not one thing. Número dos: a worrying lot (of tragic proportions). & número tres: just enough for him to be able to write his way successfully into the high realm of enduring songwriters. Enough for an exceptionally bright and deeply human mind to pour some poignant everyday poetry into the molds of huge pop songs, filling them to the brim masterfully. And enough life experience (and resilience) to find a slow-paced but true (and certain) way into the hearts of those who still give music (and lyrics) the time they need to reveal their subtly hidden treasures and joys. This year I arrived at the conclusion that 10 songs might as well be the perfect number for an album to allow itself to be heard from start to finish, to give you all it’s got, no more. But sometimes, some longer albums (when they’re as good as Pedropiedra) make me reconsider. Here we’re offered a generous collection of 13 songs. Complex but appealing songs. Funny and silly here, thought provoking and quite rebellious there. It’s challenging, but what the hell! Maybe it’s that only albums as good as PEDROPIEDRA deserve to have us devote an average of 45 minutes of our hectic lives to them over and over and over again. & the more I listen to this one, the more I know it’s worth it. & I remember that every now & then we’re lucky enough to end up getting more than we thought we would.
Anyway, I bought this CD at a little chilango venue after hearing Pedro open for Gepe here in Mexico City, and as soon as I heard it I knew I was listening to something special and so rich in detail that I wouldn’t grasp all of it immediately. I offered to write a review and suddenly I was stuck for words. Sure, I loved the album, but I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t want to find myself floating over a shallow pool of abstract praise. And I didn’t want to get lost in the winding story of how this record was finally made; no matter how intense, exciting and unbelievably miraculous the story itself is. Especially these days. (If you are or you become interested, you can find all of that with just one simple search). So, I have decided to focus on the songs and write some notes about –almost– each one (knowing that it’ll take a bit more space than usual, but also being convinced that it deserves it) and hopefully the resulting big picture won’t be as torn as those done for the album’s artwork.
The first single is a fantastic introductory piece to the album. It exposes many of its traits: a warm & timeless sound; vocals that are impeccable, real (thank you!) & soulful, and just an awesome production overall; plus a delightful arrangement: sparkling pianos, funky & spacey keyboards, guitars, drums, a big fat bass, yummy & groovy percussion, etc... (most of these played by Pedro himself) nothing out of the ordinary, but everything in its right place, everything fresh and juicy, so juicy that I also have to commend Arturo “Turra” Medina’s job as the recording and mixing engineer for his success in achieving a surprisingly clear and powerful mix of so many elements. My first impression was: wow, this is a really elegant but nonetheless daring endeavor. Brilliant. And when it came to paying attention to the lyrics, Pedro’s genius shone maybe even brighter: the agile narratives of his long phrases (a knack probably polished during his rapping days with CHC), the visual imagery, the mix of lighthearted humor, literary playfulness (exploring the multiple meanings or possible placing of words), with melancholy and sincerity. Like a good movie, or a 1-2-3 boxing combo that will knock you out every time: first it makes you laugh, then it makes your heart ache, and then you end up saying: that’s so true, that’s exactly how I feel!
Good example of his melodic craft, of his fusion of a brit pop influence with latin american rock. The chorus apparently floats higher and higher with each turn, and I get a feeling that this is also a bit of a trademark. I’m beyond enjoyment, astounded by the moving depth of his words. It seems to talk to me about those really difficult moments (of emptiness or sadness) when you can do nothing other than let go, and hope that by surviving the fall you’ll come out wiser or stronger. But it’s not pathetic, the music is so upbeat and beautiful, it’s almost… happy. Don’t we love that contrast?
"hasta el final"
A catastrophic and existentialist list of everything that will (one day) cease to be. The punchline is Pedro saying: I understood all of that since I was a kid, but nobody told me what to do with the loneliness. There’s something of a benchmark like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds here (in the vocal arrangement as much as in the philosophical musings). My favorite part is when the bass joins the drums on a lazy line that draws the circle Pedro’s singing about, the line that separates you from the distant world, that reminds you: you came alone and you are alone until the end.
"si somos salvajes"
Hot song! Great song! Mindblowing vocal harmonies (with help by Jorge González, frontman of classic Chilean rock band Los Prisioneros & more recently of Los Updates, and pretty much honorary musical ambassador for Chile in Mexico City)! Fantastic lyrics, they remind me of that old Soda Stereo song “entre caníbales” but I’d dare say this song (without losing any erotic prowess) is deeper, it has opted for a more narrative (than purely poetic) approach and (through a brilliant use of irony and sense of humor) it’s bigger, badder and more fun. Not just a relationships/romantic song. No one leaves this one without a scratch. But we’ve been warned (or is it adviced?) If we’re wild, let’s be so at all times and at all places. “También el presidente y el santo arrastran los pies como tú y yo, las lecciones que nos van dejando no sirven de nada en el mundo.” Heavy stuff! Dirty stuff! One of my favorites.
I swear I see the sun, the waves and the beach when I listen to the intro (even though the title could also refer to the key of G major… & just in case you were curious: the song is actually on the key of A major). This warm, easygoing tune might be the best song off the album. It could even be one of the best in Andrés Calamaro’s repertoire, but I think Pedro dares to draw a much more raw, naked and bittersweet picture of human nature and relationships than Andrés would. This one has brought me close to tears more than once. Beautiful.
"historias de terror"
Isn’t it incredible how some specific musical harmonies can make us feel spooky or imagine ghosts, Halloween stuff etc? This song has that combined with a childlike bounce that makes it sound almost like a half-joking-song… but if you pay close attention, its lyrics are some of the most serious in the album; they poetically bring to the table all of our historic true horror stories: war, shameful crimes that go unpunished, (and it’s awful to think such a thing can become normal to many in so many countries –el pan de cada día) like the dead women in Juárez, like all the violations to human rights during Pinochet’s military regime or like those disappeared ones that “Las madres de la plaza de mayo” still mourn. We don’t want to keep on eating that daily bread.
"soy el ring"
I doubt there’s another song that deals with the presence of the light and the shadow within (personified as God & the Devil) that can make you laugh so hard. The way it evolves and flows from beginning to end, I can’t believe it’s not butter. And I love how much you can feel he enjoys singing.
A brief, upbeat, early Beatles reminiscing ditty that joyfully tells the story of some ghostly visits that a dead mother’s been paying the narrator. It breaks my heart how he asks her, like a child: why did you have to go and die? And then he finishes the phrase with a lovely and enraged little curse: tonta.
This lament is the title of another sad song, a ballad in a ¾ meter (a walz) that dances everything away, a last goodbye. The irony is present in the chorus that sings “te vas te vas te vas te vas…” as if it were a corny melody for the Festival Oti, you can almost see José José back in 1970 wowing the audience with his rendition of “El triste” but that moment’s already gone as well.
The poppiest of the songs. A gorgeous upbeat tune about… depression (or something like that, mixed with a chosen uncertainty). The main character is waiting in a dark room, like a photograph about to develop. Its tongue-twister delicious phrases are sweetened by the voice of Leon Polar (who,by the way, lent his studio for the recording of the whole album). This could be a 40 principales hit hidden within the album, but it’s not an odd-one-out; its gloomy wit makes it blend in perfectly.
Guitars plucked in arpeggios that dance between the light and the dark weave the mood for lyrics as heavy as the chains of modern-day slaves (those who might never climb out of the marshes of poverty that our global economic systems are working dutifully at covering but not erasing)… amazing. Really amazing. I hadn’t heard new music that was so full of meaning in a long, long while.