For over a decade, Ozomatli’s genre-defying music has either delighted or befuddled, with every recorded moment seemingly designed for maximum crowd elation. With shows frequently ending with the band and its fans pouring into the streets, it makes sense the band would want to put that foot forward.
On their fifth album, Fire Away, Ozomatli—for better or worse—are still all about expertly diluting the music of a thousand cultures with the ultimate result the shaking of as many asses as possible. But does that familiar modus operandi still have an impact? The answer is, yes…most of the time.
“Malagasy Shock” and “Nadas Por Free”, for example, are precisely the sort of horn-and-percussion-driven, arms-aloft crowd pleasers that have been the band’s bread and butter since they still counted the now defunct Jurassic 5’s Chali 2Na and Cut Chemist among their ranks all those years ago.
“Elysian Persuasion”, if you’re okay with it sounding as though it’s got Lenny Kravitz singing lead, is an amiable future-funk jam, but two songs later “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” pretty much covers the same territory. Fire Away’s first single, the languid Jack Johnson collaboration “It’s Only Paper,” survives slipping into 311 territory by the simple fact that Ozomatli have personality to burn, where 311 do not.
Though it might pain those fans who prefer Ozomatli to be Ozomatli, the album’s best tracks are those on which the band finally comes to realize they can be whatever they want to be. And with the exception of the excellent soul-infused “45”, that means chilling out a bit. The ‘50s smooth soul sounds of “Gay Vatos in Love” may or may not prove controversial among Ozomatli’s fans, but as far as taking a stand, it follows an appropriately low-key, romantic approach.
Romance is also in bloom on “It’s Only Time”, its spare guitar opening building into a subtly lush swell of strings, trickling piano, brushed drums and vocal harmonies. “Love Comes Down” follows a similarly warm and whimsical journey, proving Ozomatli has it in them to find their way into mellow grounds with honest results.