Gotan Project’s 2001 album La Revancha del Tango is good music to shop to, which is a statement that might get taken as an insult from most contexts. To be fair, it’s often hard to see the cultural value of a song that’s been used to hawk dish detergent.
Then again, it’s not entirely impossible.
It takes a certain kind of music to appeal to the world of retail. The vast majority are a collection of commissioned jingles and polished pop turds. Many are songs from eras long gone — used for their associative properties. Selling something with a song means getting a customer to attach feelings to a product, and using an old classic is a good tool for that. Levi’s uses this strategy almost exclusively, banking on their history to strengthen their brand. And when the music matches up with their sentiment, as it does with their 2006 commercial featuring cover versions of Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” the results are enough to make even the most cynical critic acknowledge its poignancy.
The effort isn’t perfect, however — it’s a cover. Covering songs is a whole new can of worms, and those worms live in the grimy world of cultural politics. The Levi’s ad, for example, takes a 50-year-old Johnny Cash single (and every cultural trope it entails) and hands it over to two relatively unknown performers, effectively broadcasting the message that both the song and the jeans are relics of the past that are worth a modern update. It’s a well-organized statement that requires the use of a cover song — it even avoids the very real danger of eye-rolling pretension.
Still, a cover is a cover, and it comes with a bunch of side effects (and possibly backlash). While “Época,” the second track on La Revancha, probably won’t carry the same weight as a Cash tune, it still manages to mix the old with the new. The message isn’t as overt, but then again, the stakes are a lot lower. It also gives the track room to focus on an aspect that the Cash cover didn’t — a keenly sleek sensuality. The Levi’s ad and cover focused largely on lyrical content because it served a purpose, whereas in “Época,” there’s no need to emphasize the words. The two main genres melded together in the Gotan Project track, tango and trip hop, stress the importance of musical elements as sensory input, which ends up being the common thread and the ultimate theme of the album. It makes sense, then, that the cover would be a field of bare flesh from the collarbone, alerting the eyes as effectively as the descending staccato and sultry vocals alert the ears that something erotic is going on.
There’s a quick response from the deepest instincts of the human condition, and while it cheapens the effect more than a little to have it selling Finish Jet Dry, it doesn’t diminish the effect its got on its surroundings. (In this case, the slow motion flight of pasta.)
Even when Gotan Project dials down the brashness of their sound, as on album closer “Vuelvo al Sur,” the imagery still stands. Without the overt staccato of the previous track, “Vuelvo” creeps along adding each element in layers, piecing together a dense mesh of interlocking elements from the tango and trip hop genres. The result is a track that clocks in at seven minutes long, but never draws attention to itself, preferring to ease into the background. Without the immediate hook, it isn’t likely to garner the attention of ad executives, though in my opinion, it would be a relatively good choice.
The song becomes furniture in a room — a soundtrack to other… ahem, activities. Jingles are meant to be earworms, but “Época” and “I Walk the Line” were never meant to be jingles. These are tracks that are at the forefront of their advertisements, on the same level as the product message. “Vuelvo” would have a slightly different purpose — providing subtext to whatever’s happening onscreen. It might be selling hotel rooms or chocolates or anything else, but with the album cover, I’ve got a feeling Gotan’s got something else in mind.
Artist: Gotan Project
Album: La Revancha del Tango
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)
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