1999 was The Year of the Wolf. After disappearing into the commercial wilderness for several years, Los Lobos have returned with a flood of material. Earlier this year, fans were pleasantly surprised to see new albums by guitarist Cesar Rosas, singer-songwriter David Hidalgo's blues project Houndog, and the second installment of the Latin Playboys, the remarkable combo led by Hidalgo and percussionist Louie Perez. And now, finally, they've all convened for Los Lobos' seventh album. Producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake have mixed down Los Lobos' sound, giving it a deeper bottom end and heavier guitars than ever before.
"Viking" sets corrosive guitars and fuzzed-out bass against an oddly appropriate horn riff. It sounds like a heavy-metal biker anthem spiked with Spanish flavor and a pulsing beat. "High Places" features explosive, intertwining guitar work worthy of Television. Unfortunately, This Time is marred by terrible lyrics, which is strange, given the great writing on the latest Latin Playboys album. The lyrics to "Viking" are so off-hand and conversational that they're swallowed up by the power of the guitars and the driving beat.
I don't want to harp on this too much, because ultimately This Time is a groove album, a hard-rocking and casually inventive good time. On "La Playa", Hidalgo croons in Spanish and English over a disorienting array of gamelan percussion, ambient keyboards and a lo-fi coil of electric guitar. The song is a mix of traditions, but hardly traditional. It's a remarkable accomplishment for a band comprised of that rarest breed of rock musicians who get more experimental and adventurous, as they grow older.