“We can change the world / If we can change our ways,” sings Henry Garza over purring Hammond organ and Stevie Ray-style Fender Strat in the ham-fisted ballad “Change the World,” the cringe-inducing low-point on Rockpango, Los Lonely Boys’ fourth studio album. Ironically, “change” seems to be the last thing on the minds of the Brothers Garza (Henry: guitar, vocals; Jojo: bass, vocals; and Ringo: drums, vocals). This self-proclaimed “Texican Rock and Rolll” trio still revels in Latin-tinged soul sparked by close-knit harmonies and a dexterous instrumental attack touching equally on Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and, well, Jimmy Buffet.
It’s been seven long years since their self-titled 2004 breakthrough and their mega-single (and still calling card) “Heaven,” a lightweight and inoffensive pop ditty that, outside of a nimble guitar solo, failed to represent their core sound. The Boys are clearly pop fans — their sky-high harmonies demonstrate that much — but as a whole, this is a trio aiming more for the guitar festival crowd than Top 40 lovers. If you’re going to judge the band based on that shining moment of chart success, you’ll be mostly confused by the contents of Rockpango.
Let’s get to the good news first: The boys can still flat-out play. Throughout, Henry’s electric guitars are equally subtle and flashy, picking the perfect moments to explode in a wave of wah-wah or launch into a bent-note tirade. Like Carlos Santana before him, his playing is always controlled and nuanced, more tone-centered than showy. On the drum throne, Ringo continues to challenge his own name, demonstrating spot-on control over his huge, un-Beatles-like kit, punching up the proceedings with Latin percussion and boomy fills. Perhaps the band’s secret weapon (if that’s even possible in a trio) is Jojo’s bass work. He has a thick, unique tone, heavily melodic and super-punchy, shooting straight thorough the mix on badass tracks like “Love in My Veins” and the funky, clavinet-led “Baby Girl.”
The bad news: Los Lonely Boys are much better players than they are songwriters. Even when the music works, like on “Baby Girl” (“Shake it, uh-huh / Mama, drop it like it’s hot!”), the lyrics are at best laughable, at worst flat-out embarrassing. And the Garzas should avoid acoustic guitars and strings at all costs — corny ballads like “Road to Nowhere” and “Smile” crash before they even take off.
The tracklist is sequenced awkwardly — perhaps in order to showcase the band’s multiple musical personalities. But the decision to sandwich the laughably stupid “Porn Star” (in which the Garzas proclaim their love for an adult film star’s “hips and thighs” and “big ol’ car” over ridiculous DJ scratches) between “Change the World” and the limp riff-rocker “Believe” only demonstrates an expansive knack for failure.
At one point in “Porn Star,” a clearly excited bass voice sums up things pretty well: “Boomshakalaka.” Oh, dear.