The first time I pressed play on Rudo Y Cursi, the CD soundtrack to the Carlos Cuaron film of the same name, I instantly had flashbacks to the quinceañeras and weddings of my childhood in small-town California. I could almost smell the aroma of carne asada and picture the sight of girls in puffy pink shimmery dresses and guys with black velvet cowboy hats. And most importantly, I could hear the ever-present sound of up-tempo accordions, blaring horns, and oohmpa-oohmpa bass. Yes, norteño music.
During that first listen, I hadn’t yet seen the movie, which reunites Mexican superstars Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal for the first time since their breakout film Y Tu Mama Tambien. But something seemed suspicious about a norteño track opening the soundtrack, which is produced by Latin indie genius Camilo Lara (Mexican Institute of Sound). And then the vocals came in: a whiny, monotone drone singing corny lyrics. The song, it turns out, is sung by Gael himself, singing in character as Tato “El Cursi” Verdusco. The song is a norteño-ized (and really cursi) cover of the famously cheesy Cheap Trick song “I Want You To Want Me.” See, in the film, Gael plays a soccer prodigy (well, idiot savant might be a better description) who attempts to use his soccer superstardom as a springboard to his true passion: music. It just so happens that El Cursi is a lot better at soccer than music. “Don’t confuse passion with talent,” the movie’s narrator warns at one point. But even though the song is supposed to sound intentionally bad, it’s actually really addictive, fun, and entertaining.
But the best, most ready-for-primetime pop song on the CD follows immediately afterward. Los Odio and Juan Son collaborate on a more straightforward rockin’ cover of the Cheap Trick song. Juan Son sings the song with just enough anxious-yet-optimistic emo affect to capture the spirit of the song’s lyrics, perhaps better than Cheap Trick themselves.
Unfortunately, after these two really satisfying tracks, the soundtrack loses all momentum as it sputters between sleepy and uninspired covers of traditional regional Mexican standards. This album brings together many big names in Latin alternative and American indie: Juana Molina, Nortec Collective, Devendra Banhart, The Black Lips, and more. So it’s disappointing that many of these tracks fail to fly as high as the first two. The unmistakably Mexican Institute of Sound version of “Arboles De La Barranca” is good, with a nice cameo by Saul Hernandez of Los Jaguares, but it doesn’t hold a candle to most of the tracks on MIS’ recent release Soy Sauce. And Bostich & Fussible’s take on the same song is just boring. Save some money and buy “Quiero Que Me Quieras” and Juan Son’s “I Want You to Want Me” on iTunes or elsewhere. Those tracks are must-haves. The rest is hit-or-miss.