Album of the Week: Proxima Estacion: Esperanza by Manu Chao
Music is a beautiful thing. It brings together people of all different ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, etc. In many cases, music also serves as a bridge between people who speak different languages, uniting them through the messages of their songs (and sometimes, the message of their album as a whole). While the previous two editions of Ugly Album Covers Good Songs have featured records recorded in English, I’ve decided to try my hand at an ugly album cover with good songs that blend together the languages of Spanish, Arabic, French, Galician, Portuguese, and a little bit of English. Próxima Estacion: Esperanza is a one-of-a-kind, Grammy-nominated album that features a vibrant album cover featuring the record’s artist himself, Manu Chao.
Manu Chao is a Spanish and French singer who started off singing in rockabilly music groups in the 1980s, taking heavy inspiration from British Rock that was popular at the time. After forming the band Mano Negra, Manu Chao later began recording solo albums with Radio Bemba Sound System. Próxima Estación: Esperanza is the second album he recorded, being named after a metro stop in Madrid. While many of Chao’s previous tracks carried a rock and sometimes even alternative rock influence, Proxima Estacion: Esperanza has more of a reggae/Latin/Caribbean influence, turning Chao to a pointedly different direction with his music. This album, released in 2001, has gone on to be placed as #65 on Rolling Stone’s “Best Albums of the Decade,” as well as #474 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Similar to the second edition of Ugly Album Covers Good Songs, I’ll be analyzing the album cover in relation to the lyrics and instrumentals of the songs on the record.
The star of the album cover is Manu Chao himself, clad in a questionable outfit and playing a guitar with both hands. Seeing as he is the focal point of the cover, it makes sense that the songs in the album are also very much focused on him. With songs such as “Me Gustas Tu” and “Mi Vida,” the message of many of the songs relates directly to him. He is telling his story – his love life, his life in general, his desires, his likes, his dislikes, etc.
The questionability of his outfit only further contributes to his message. He isn’t one to care about conforming to societal norms — donning bright green sweatpants with a brown blazer and a red and blue hat. Rather than appealing to his audience through his physical appearance, Chao attempts to send the message that his innermost thoughts and feelings are what really matters. They are the core of the album, not him externally.
Chao’s laid-back appearance on the album cover contributes to the free-spirited instrumentals in the album, in addition to the lyrics. Most notably, many of the songs in the album are reggae and relaxed. Throughout my time in high school, I would often listen to Manu Chao when I was stressed. The songs are relaxing, carefree, and fun. They don’t convey any harsh political messages or any heartbreaking tales. Rather, the rhythm of the music puts me to sleep or sometimes even makes me want to go on a walk on the beach. What really makes the cover of Proxima Estacion: Esperanza so ugly to me is the bright and contrasting colors. From the colors on Chao’s outfit, to the bright yellow used for the album title, and even to the grainy sand color, the album cover is a colorful mess. However, much like these colors, the songs on the album are also kind of everywhere. Some of the songs are in Spanish, others Arabic, and some are a blend of multiple languages. There isn’t really a set language or a set tone throughout the record. From one song to another, you don’t really know what’s gonna hit you (or what language it’s gonna hit you in). Thus, while the colors on the album cover are a little bit all over the place, so are the songs on the album themselves.