Kinky: Reina

[18 October 2006]

By Evan Sawdey

PopMatters Interviews Editor

Beck For the First Time

It’s official: Kinky are now the Mexican Beck, with a little bit of War’s “Low Rider” mixed in for good effect.  Dance-floor ready rockers with an unbridled sense of fun tossed into a keyboard fiesta where steel drums and accordions are just as important as bass and lead guitars.  Since their 2002 eponymous debut, they’ve bounced around with bilingual funk masterpieces, collaborating with Cake frontman John McCrea on their sophomore album simply because they could and it would sound awesome (it did).  Now, with a huge cult following under their belt and fantastic live résumé, they release their third shot of Equator-born adrenaline, Reina.  In Spanish, it stands for “it reigns”.

And here they reign supreme.

Guitars play far less of a role here then they have on Kinky’s past efforts.  The major six-string heroics appear on “Again and So On”, the growling “Leon”, and the sample-heavy “How Do They Do That?”—and even with that, the guitars are used solely for hooks and bouncing riffs instead of radical (and pointless) soloing.  Kinky, ultimately, are a band—not the product of a single songwriter or producer.  While mouthpiece Gil Cerezo writes all the lyrics, there are songs like “How Do they Do That?” that function fine without a single word sung.  Even the single repeated line of “I had a sister twisted” from the surprisingly mellow (for Kinky, at least) opener “Sister Twisted” still has some strange emotional effect (followed by the only other lyric in the song: “she was in the corner of plastics and red”)—all while coated in Midnite Vulture-style synth washes.

What’s most interesting about Reina, however, is how there’s no barn-burning standout like their classic accordion-funk workout “Cornman”.  We have a dozen energetic bouncy numbers, but not single lightning-bolt highlight.  Even when Men at Work frontman and Garden State soundtrack guy Colin Hay stops by to lend his voice to “Monday Killer”, you can’t help but feel like Kinky’s trying to do a modern-day update of the aforementioned “Low Rider”—but with a touch of crank.  Because of Reina’s well-rounded nature, track order becomes almost entirely irrelevant: playing the songs in random order will have no effect on the rocktronic energy they keep on bringing (as if they were the musical equivalent of a double-espresso).

Yet, if there’s any downside to Kinky as a band, it’s that although they’ve created a very distinct sound, they’ve failed to truly expand and explore it with each progressive release.  Though it’s hard to imagine the electronic strobe-light blast that is “Spin the Wine” off their first LP, the “Kinky sound” has been pretty well fleshed out by now.  The slightly slower “Nothing Really” is a song we all knew we had in them, synth-scapes included.  Though they have successfully avoided repeating themselves in full, one wonders what new tricks they would have to pull for a forth release, because only now have we gotten the feeling of slight redundancy.

Yet if it’s not broke, why bother fixing it?  Reina remains a great album.  Not the album that will change your life, not the album that will redefine pop for the 21st century—just a fun rocking album of Tex-Mex crowd-moving music.  Usted deseó el mejor, usted consiguió el mejor: Kinky!

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