The rock trio's iconic record reverberates across Latin America, jam-packed with raw and heartfelt emotion
When reading the likes of Pitchfork or Rolling Stone Magazine, one might notice that amongst many music journalists there is a common trope amidst their work to massively overhype or unfairly tone down the success of an artist’s work. Whilst subjective biases can create the tendency to do this, when it comes to Soda Stereo it would be simply impossible to downplay the resonance the band had, not just in Argentina, but across the Spanish-speaking world. When it comes to Spanish-language rock there are few names bigger, with perhaps only Latin rock guitarist Carlos Santana rivalling them in terms of profile. Nevertheless, among Soda Stereo’s back-catalogue there is still only one album that can be described as head and shoulders above the rest in terms of how iconic the record is - that is, of course, Canción Animal.
“This of course resonated with people both across Latin America and in Spain, who at one point or another in the 20th century had their freedoms taken away from them, and thus could relate to the exuberant sound of Soda Stereo.”
Just before this crazy journey, in which Joel and I have descended deep into a psychological breakdown in which we obsessively explore music from across the world, I was planning to pack my bags and head to Buenos Aires to start a new chapter of my career in journalism. In light of this I decided to reach out and meet some Argentinians in London, in a bid to make some connections and to learn more about the country where I was planning to set up shop. After several encounters, it soon become apparent to me that whilst among non-Argentinians the names of those such as Diego Maradona, Pope Francis, Jorge Luis Borges, Eva Perón, Lionel Messi and Che Guevara are obviously synonymous with Argentina, there is one omission from the list that would repeatedly shock Argentines that I would meet…
Gustavo Cerati is a name that would come up time and time again in my encounters with Argentines who could not quite believe that I did not know who he was. After having done some research, their dismay appears somewhat understandable as he seems to take on a similar kind of legendary status to John Lennon in the UK or Elvis Presley in the US. The Soda Stereo frontman is not only known for his time with the band but also for his flourishing solo career he carved out after the group broke up. Yet, his inability to break into the mainstream Western consciousness, despite such immense success in the Spanish-speaking world, raises the question of whether it is only possible for a rock artist to become globally renowned whilst singing only in English?
Based on Soda Stereo’s stand-out album, Canción Animal, one might be forgiven for thinking that the answer to that question might be ‘no’, even if that sounds rather closed-minded. This is because this is the kind of rock that contains tracks which are full of powerful emotive lyrics which make the songs all the more beautiful than their composition and instrumentation alone sets them out to be. It is made audibly obvious, to even those who cannot speak a word of Spanish, that the themes Cerati and the band touch on are far from being puerile. They achieve this mostly by the rawness that can be heard in Cerati’s voice. In some senses it feels that this overflow of emotion is representative of a nation who had been silenced for decades having the chance to let rip.
Whilst Argentina was under the brutal dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla, people would not have been able to express themselves so easily through music during that era. It is therefore no coincidence that when the album was released in 1990s, Soda Stereo defiantly played the music of freedom that echoed around Western democracies during the 70s and 80s that they would not have been permitted to previously. This of course resonated with people both across Latin America and in Spain, who at one point or another in the 20th century had their freedoms taken away from them, and thus could relate to the exuberant sound of Soda Stereo. Cerati also channels his broken relationship as a source of pain and emotion to sing about, in what seems like an almost cathartic way, in the songs Un Millón de Años Luz, the title-track Canción Animal, and Hombre Al Agua ,which could easily touch the nerve of anyone who has experienced similar heartache. Whilst there are several tracks I really like on the record, I cannot look past their most famous song De Música Ligera as the best track on the album, with it being no surprise that the track has almost taken on an anthemic status. The heavily impassioned chorus perhaps serves as a strong counterargument to the idea that lyrics need to be understood to popularise an album. Even if you just listen to this song, there is no doubt you’ll be intrigued by these icons of Latin rock.