ARGENTINA: Clics Modernos - Charly García
Updated: Apr 10
Finding the right adjective to sum-up an album is not always an easy task, but the word 'revolutionary' is obvious in the case of García's epic sophomore solo effort
Upon what may well have been my fiftieth listen of this behemoth of an album, Clics Modernos, I was reminded of a quote I once heard by American political theorist and critic of the New Left movement, Saul Alinsky. He said: “True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within.” Though within the confines of a democratic and somewhat ordered political sphere his instinct may have some remnant of truth, both Charly García’s album, as well as his being, more broadly speaking, demonstrates that this sentiment is far from reality when a true revolution is needed. At the time of the album’s release García inherently defied this statement in every sense of it, not just with his unique fashion sense, as he would don a bicolour moustache, lengthy, unkempt curly hair, and would never be seen sporting his collar done up, but also with the sheer genius of what can only be described as one of the most rebellious and unashamedly forward-thinking pieces of art I have ever come across.
“...García doesn’t just disprove Alinsky’s aforementioned statement, he shoves two fingers up at it in style proving that sometimes flaunting radicalism is not just for posterity, but rather for true and profound revolution. ”
It is fair to say that Argentina can be considered as the birthplace of numerous revolutionaries that preceded García, with perhaps none more synonymous with the concept of radicalism than Che Guevara, who lent a hand to his brethren across the continent of Latin America. This time, in 1983, Argentina needed a revolutionary more than ever. Off the back of the National Reorganization Process’ nine-year-long military junta, which saw the forced ‘disappearances’ (extrajudicial murder and torture for those who are not a fan of euphemism) of, by some estimates, 30,000 people who had an association to left-wing Peronism, as well as knowingly sending countless soldiers to their death in Argentina's inevitably unwinnable invasion of the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas), the country was desperate for revolutionary change. In the early parts of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the wealthiest nations in the world, not only in terms of economics, where it was more prosperous than the major powers of France, Germany, and Spain, but so too in culture, where tango became chic in all of Europe’s major capital city ballrooms, and the work of writers like Jorge Luis Borges were considered among the most highly acclaimed in the world. However, after years of depression and repression, the nation was on the brink of following a path in which its glorious past would be merely a distant memory, rather than part of their rather unique DNA that would set the tone for the following decades.
Although García was far from being the only key player in making 1983 a year for genuine change in a country that quite frankly was so deserving of one, he became emblematic of that change, and that was in part due to the genius of his album that was released merely a month before the democratic election of Raúl Alfonsín’s government. The very fact that his production and release of this album technically predate the end of the Dirty War demonstrate the utter fearlessness and vision of the man, and to me indicates that García could easily join other esteemed poster-boys from around the world, such as Bob Marley, in his immense power to be able to bring together cultural and political revolution at the same time. Yet his lyrical and musical innovation was not exactly new for him. Having already made his name in three epic Argentine bands, namely Sui Generis, La Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, and Serú Girán, it was in his early beginnings as a solo artist that García begun to wear his politics on his sleeve, despite the high risk that he would be another casualty on the seemingly endless list of ‘disappeared’ compatriots who were unafraid to critique the status quo. His first album saw the release of tracks like the absolute banger No Bombardeen Buenos Aires which overtly criticises the ruling dictator at the time Leopoldo Galtieri.
However, on this album, the cuttingness of his lyrics are arguably taken one step further. I could obsess over some of the songs on a lyrical level line-by-line for hours, like how some might with the works of Shakespeare, but I won’t spoil the fun for you in doing it for you and would rather leave you to your own devices to revel in the wonder of García’s poetry. If that doesn’t seem like an appetising task to you, then I would simply implore you to explore the lyrics of two tracks in particular, the wild opener, Nos Siguen Pegando Abajo, which uses some of the most expressive double entendre to highlight the rage García felt about the dictatorship’s violent repression, kicking off the album by comparing the nation's oppressors to a paedophile marrying a child, as well as Los Dinosaurios, the rather gutsy homage to his brothers and sisters whom the dictatorship sickeningly killed. I just love the zestful certainty of the line 'pero los dinosaurios van a desaparecer' ('but the dinosaurs are going to disappear' in English) within the context of the feat he and his compatriots were living in, knowing so many loved ones who would be taken and killed by the junta for even the slightest sign of not towing the party line. Yet, there is another form of rebellion taking place amidst García’s lyrical acerbity that is not to be ignored – the music.
Having now listened to more albums from Argentina than any other nation, bar the UK, the US, and perhaps Mali, it wouldn’t be so out of place to consider myself somewhat au fait with the timeline of Argentine music, particularly rock. This album, for my money, completely tore up the rule book, and, in an act of defiance, took all the best parts of the avant-garde factions of the English-language music scene and made it its own thing. There is a song by one of his former outfits Serú Girán called Mientras Miro Las Nuevas Olas (translated to ‘meanwhile I look at the new waves’), in which García proudly declares ‘ya yo soy parte del mar’ (‘I am part of the sea’ in English). Without wishing to besmirch other artists who contributed to the new wave genre, I would argue that when it comes to Argentina, or even the region of Latin America as a whole, Garcia proves himself to be the epitome of the entire genre, taking a punkish and abrasive soul, but delivering it with a deft touch to a mass audience utilising his outstanding dance sensibility, which is not done with any frivolous motivation behind it. This is not dance music for the sake of it; this is dance music made with a multi-layered purpose, one of which is to rebel against those who have tried to rid the nation of joy and individual freedom.
The whole album is full of differences in style that can be defined in terms of classic pop-rock to disco to electronic music, but yet somehow they all seem to come under the same umbrella due to his masterful ability to blend a range of quite differing influences into one sound. The crazy thing about this album is that he does this all without drums. García proves himself to be some kind of synth-God, reinventing the wheel and then some. Arguably my least favourite song (notice how I refuse to label a track as 'worst') is Ojos De Video Tape, the final track, merely because it is the least heart-pumping of the bunch and yet within it, the music contains a space-like quality that is something to behold. Arguably the most genius of the bunch on a musical level is Bancate Ese Defecto which seems to have a unique duality between machines and played instruments, almost as if there is a perfect syncronisty between two songs he has somehow meshed into one. Every single song on Clics Modernos is at least a 10/10 on a musical level. There is no point holding your hand as I guide you through the intricacies of each one too much, they are all fantastic, each showing off García’s seemingly infinite multiplicity of dimensions and intentions. If you’re interested, No Me Dejan Salir is my favourite, due to its epic funky sampling of James Brown with its sheer underlying wrath at the dictatorship, but frankly they are all superb and I would have no qualms if you picked any of the other eight songs as the your favourite.
If I were to be picky and have one qualm with the album, it is that he didn’t name the album Nuevos trapos (one of the titles of a song on the record that translates to ‘New rags’). This is because I feel that García, in the production of this album, has stripped off the metaphorical shackles of the nation and rebooted it, with a daring vision of what his country should look like. That said, who the hell am I to criticise the renegade that is García? With Clics Modernos, García doesn’t just disprove Alinsky’s aforementioned statement, he shoves two fingers up at it in style, proving that sometimes flaunting radicalism is not just for posterity, but rather for true and profound revolution. Viva García! Je suis Charly!