Album Review: CSS – La Liberación

Following on from Cansei der Ser Sexy in 2005 and Donkey in 2008, the title of this, CSS‘s third record, suggests a break away for the São Paulo band, a freeing from certain strictures. However, not all is as it appears to be. Part of their initial popularity was the sense of fun they expounded, in both live performances and on record, filtering the best of Brazilian rhythmic culture with references to British and American traditions.

There is an obvious love of punk in their work and an irreverent take on music in general, which is always a pleasing thing, but opener “I Love You” starts off with an unfortunate vocoder, which, rather than inviting the listener, completely disrupts proceedings. The song, which takes on elements of Cyndi Lauper, suffers under this, and instead spits lyrics out in a sugary, flimsy vein that has too many synthesized sounds going on. It is a song that cannot think straight.

In fact, the whole record suffers under this conceit. There are some lovely, warm, breezy beats, as on “Hits Me Like a Rock”, but the vocals seem so drenched in effects that it takes away from any kind of earthiness, and Bobby Gillespie’s appearance seems fatuous, a nod to the kind of sound they are hoping to achieve. You would think that “City Grrrl” references the Riot Grrrl movement, but it couldn’t be further from the sound (or sense of feminism). It talks about the fact that “nothing hurts”, as if in a pop confessional, but it isn’t as bright and clear-eyed as something like Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”, though it also seems rooted in the ’80s, referencing Tom Tom Club, Afrobeat, and reggae.

There are some pleasing moments, like the guitars on “Echo of Love”, which have a kind of Tropicalia feel and where Lovefoxxx’s vocals sound genuinely lovely. “You Could Have it All” has a sturdy coalescing of piano and stomping guitars but takes a detour to a kind of truly synthetic electro-pop dance music that seems to strip away real meaning or musicality. However, the best track on the record is probably “Partners in Crime”, which seems truly authentic because it is easy and flowing.

The title track has more of a traditionally scuzzy rock feel and is the only song not sung in English. Here the band seems more at home, referencing that tough, direct guitar rock and pop that soared in the seventies (and continues to recur) in Britain and America. By the end, the guitars come to the forefront once more, but things sound careworn. With a long silence, we get the coda of the album, a distorted, disjointed collection of sounds, with Lovefoxxx referencing herself as a confident, rebellious 12-year-old. The disappointing irony is that this is exactly how the record sounds.

Essential Track: “Partners in Crime”


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