The themed Red Hot + (X) compilations, assembled to raise money for AIDS awareness, were a mainstay throughout the 1990s. The first, Red Hot + Blue, featured artists like U2, Sinead O'Connor and Tom Waits interpreting the songs of Cole Porter. Later entries included Red Hot + Bothered (a jumble of indie rock), Red Hot + Rhapsody (a tribute to Gershwin) and Red Hot + Dance (you can figure that one out). Silencio=Muerte: Red Hot + Latin, from 1997, featured collaborations between Latin American artists and their English-speaking counterparts. It's now been reissued in a reconfigured Redux version, losing some material (no Melissa Etheridge or Sepultura) and adding five new tracks from current artists roughly in the "Alt. Latin" field.
Rehearing the older songs reveals an odd duality: On one hand, it's a time capsule, bringing back the blender of the '90s, when mishmashes of Spanish and English, acoustic instruments and electronics, and Latin and Anglo pop styles seemed to point to a bright multicultural future. On the other, it shows how little has changed, suggesting that a sense of adventure was lost somewhere along the way. Cibo Matto's "Aguas De Marco" and Reign & Hurricane G's "Padre Nuestro" both hear Latin pop as controlled, removed mood music for early morning comedowns. Los Lobos & Money Mark's "Pepe & Irene" has the same sort of vintage lounge-band feel Money Mark brought to his '90s solo projects, projecting an ironic, stoned sense of so-square-it's-cool. The trip-hop undercurrent here, since multiplied many thousand times over in cutout-bin "chill" compilations, is pervasive.
It's a thread continued on the new material, like Brazilian Girls & Kevin Johansen's cover of Talking Heads' "Crosseyed and Painless," which smooths out the original's spiky edges and coasts into the horizon on a bland continental house beat. Thievery Corporation's "Sol Tapado" could have come from any time in the last 10 years, so universal is its spliffed-out hip-hop beat, dinging percussion and exhausted wah-wah funk guitar. Plastilina Mosh's "Peligroso Pop" sounds like something the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label would have been drooling over when it was still solvent, with a fat organ groove and laid-back Spanish-English patter. This particular vision of Latin music, as mood enhancer only, seems designed for disposability. Then again, if this strain has changed little in the nearly 10 years since the original issue of Silencio=Muerte, it might be interesting to enjoy Redux for awhile, then bury it for another decade and see if Latin-Anglo crossovers become combustible again.
Mark Richardson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.