Don’t Mess With the Dragon, the fifth full length release by LA-based Ozomatli makes the concerted effort to do two things. One, smooth out their songwriting process so that every track was a collaborative effort between band members (yay). Two, bring in producer KC Porter to help give the sound a more packaged, radio-playable spin (ummm….).
Both of these are very audible – the songs blend and flow into one another despite the shorter track lengths (again, radio) that shows cohesive planning from song to song. “City of Angels” tears out, extolling the virtues of probably the only place on earth where these guys could have gotten together – a city of brilliance and smog, congestion and movement, beauty and terror in equal measures. Title track “Don’t Mess With The Dragon” goes at the personal demons of the band members themselves, trying not to stir up the many ills that can come with a stressful existence as a career musician. “Magnolia Soul” goes way funk, but doesn’t get lost in the movement – it also is a pretty scathing denunciation of the post-Katrina mayhem. Ozo is, as ever, a instrumental atom bomb compared to most pop out there – the disc burns with their unique energy and soul.
But just not quite as much as I’d like. They haven’t lost their edge – the political message is still there, the artistic movement that makes them Ozo. But the thing to love is a sense of energy that leaps out of every note, every movement. Don’t Mess… leans towards a smoother package, but the veneer of palatability and even polish has rubbed off some of the spikes of brilliance and energy that have inspired the rabid loyalty of Ozo-ites everywhere.
I certainly appreciate the desires of a band that’s been running on half-tank popularity wise for the last decade to take it up to full throttle and actually make it. It’s a natural desire. Everyone’s doing it. But, but, but… I want MY Ozomatli. The guys whose every word makes me burn to move. Where even mentioning the band makes me smile, start to sway, and whisper “Dip, dive, socialize…” They set the bar so high for themselves that it’s hard to not miss that extra edge that populated their earlier discs.
So my solution? Give them the fame they deserve – get the album out, on the radio, on the streets. It is worth every second of airtime. Let them get the spotlight, so they can show off what they can really do – every beat, lick, hit, and shout of it. It'll wake this dragon up and get it roaring.