'Ricky Martin' is light on the Latin

CD REVIEWS

May 20, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin (C2/Columbia 69891)

There has been a lot of hopeful talk in the music business about Latin pop stars moving into the mainstream, with numerous singers -- from Selena to Enrique Iglesias to Jennifer Lopez -- being trumpeted as the next big thing.

At the moment, Ricky Martin seems the industry's most likely crossover. After making a big splash performing "Vuelve" during the Grammy Awards broadcast in February, Martin released an English-language single, "La Vida Loca," which quickly climbed to the top of the charts. Now, with "Ricky Martin," the former Menudo member seems set to conquer America.

There's no doubt that "Ricky Martin" has pop potential. In addition to two versions of "La Vida Loca," one in English, one en Espanol, there are also some hot dance numbers, a smattering of romantic ballads, even a duet with Madonna.

What it doesn't have is a particularly strong Latin identity. Martin sings in Spanish only occasionally on this album and is even more sparing in his use of Latin pop. So if you've come to "Ricky Martin" in hopes of feeling some of the fire that fueled "Vuelve," expect to be disappointed.

The only thing Latin in "Shake Your Bon-Bon" is the line "Hola amiga"; otherwise, the song is dance pop on the order of Jimmy Ray's "Are You Jimmy Ray." "I Am Made of You" blends U2-ish guitar with a Sting-style vocal, while "Private Emotion" -- a duet with underrated Swedish star Meja -- could as easily have fit on an Elton John album.

It's not as if Martin has completely abandoned his roots. The album does recap a couple of his older Hispanic hits -- "The Cup of Life," composed for last summer's World Cup Soccer games in France, and the thumpingly insistent cumbia "Maria" -- and applies a bit of salsa spice to "Spanish Eyes."

But the end result is about as authentically Latin as lunch at Taco Bell. "Spanish Eyes" is a hodgepodge of South American cliches, with laughable lyrics about dancing the tango with a girl at the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. (Excuse me, but they do the samba in Rio; for tango, try Argentina.) Then there's "La Vida Loca," which, despite its blaring brass and Spanish title, is a ska song, not salsa.

Still, there are moments when Martin manages a genuine fusion of Latin and Anglo pop. "Love You for a Day" is an intriguing cross between new wave and merengue, while "Be Careful (Cuidado Con Mi Corazon)," his slow-simmering duet with Madonna, is a perfect blend of styles, intermingling rock and Puerto Rican elements to create something new and unique.

Should he ever manage to extend that magic from moments to whole albums, Martin's rise will be unstoppable.

**1/2

Pop/rock

Various Artists

Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music, Vol. 2 (Arista 19079)

Lilith Fair: A Celebration of Women in Music, Vol. 3 (Arista 19081)

Just as the Lilith Fair itself grew last year, so has the recorded version. Where the first summer tour was immortalized in a double-CD package, the second has been split into two individual CDs, neither of which puts much emphasis on the festival's big names. True, "Vol. 2" gives us Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan in a lovely duet with Emmylou Harris on "Angel," as well as Natalie Merchant covering Elvis' "The Ghetto." But even those are no match for Shawn Colvin's charmingly discursive "New Thing Now" and Morcheeba's surging "The Sea." There are more big names on "Vol. 4" -- McLachlan, Harris, Bonnie Raitt, the Indigo Girls -- and more hits, as well. Sixpence None the Richer sing "Kiss Me," Luscious Jackson unleash "Naked Eye" and Suzanne Vega does a solo "Luka." Notably absent from either volume is Missy Elliott, whose high-energy set was one of last year's highlights.

Vol. 2: ***

Vol. 3: ***

Tom Waits

Mule Variations (Anti-/Epitaph 86547)

When, exactly, did Tom Waits turn against high fidelity? On "Mule Variations," Waits goes for a sound so rootsy and unvarnished he may as well have used a gramophone. His production isn't lo-fi -- it's almost anti-fi, using compression, indirect miking and other studio techniques to strip the color and presence from the sound. But his approach has its uses. There's a vintage charm to blues like "Cold Water" and "Get Behind the Mule," and an otherworldly edge to "Lowside of the Road" and the clanking "Eyeball Kid." Best of all, when he applies this cramped, minimalist soundscape to ballads, like the dreamy "Take It With Me" or the noir-style "Black Market Baby," it makes the musical atmosphere palpably vivid.

***1/2

Soundtrack

Dawson's Creek

Songs from "Dawson's Creek" (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax 69853)

Given the age of its cast and audience, you might expect the TV series "Dawson's Creek" to be a breeding ground for perky teen pop. But what turns up on "Songs from Dawson's Creek" is anything but. Instead of synth-driven dance numbers, what we get is quietly intense singer/songwriter fare. Sixpence None the Richer's sweetly sentimental "Kiss Me" is the album's obvious hit, but the other selections are in very much the same vein. Indeed, several songs -- including Heather Nova's jangly, emotional "London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do)" and Chantal Kreviazuk's surging, dramatic "Feels Like Home" -- have as much hit potential as "Kiss Me," while Shawn Mullins' "Shimmer" and Sozzi's "Letting Go" are treasures well worth discovering.

***

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