On Place in the Sun, the eighth album from LA Latino funk collective Ozomatli, the band eschews its grittier, politically charged earlier ethos in favor of a more pop sound. While this critic has missed most of the last few Ozomatli albums, so it’s unclear if this is a completely new development, but it’s really surprising at how poppy their sound had become over the decade.
The fact that Ozomatli has been making music for this long is an accomplishment in itself and a testament to the commitment of their fan base, driven in large part by the radioactive energy of their live performance. I had a chance to see Ozomatli rock a crowd of about a thousand mostly white, middle aged beach folk down in Florida over a decade ago. Proving their chops more than any album ever could is their ability to connect with seemingly polar opposites through the diplomacy of funk. I got into Ozomatli because I was into DJing, funk music, and anything by Cut Chemist.
After only the first album their material departed from hip-hop infused beats provided by the Jurassic 5 co-founder, to the point where now the presence of the DJ is unheard on this album. That’s not good or bad, just an observation. Hopefully they still at least have a DJ in their live shows, as this was one of the major things that sparked a lot of people’s interest in them in the first place.
What’s up for debate is the quality of this record, and overall, as an album, it is bad. From a fan’s perspective, this is difficult to say, as both their live show and some of their older material is amazing. The first five tracks on this album feel like the members were trying in earnest to write the most amazing pop song for every style of music they could play. Batucada? Check. Electro? Check. Pop Rock? Check. Reggae primed for the nearest Sandals resort? Check. Slow-jam Salsa? You get the picture.
It’s clear that the members of this band are all very polished musicians by this point. The production sounds like something you would hear on a Black Eyed Peas album half of the time, and maybe a Jason Mraz album the rest. The album does get a bit better in the second half with “Burn it Down”, and “Tus Ojos”, the best song on the album. But there the goodness ends, and the songs sway too far into campy cheeseland for this critic’s tastes. I was hoping to hear something new and fresh with this album, but instead got something I may appreciate when I too own a seaworthy vessel and want to get groovy with the latin funk music. Perhaps.
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