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Record Review: Ricky Martin

This story was published October 20, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

I have horrible musical taste. Hang on, that didn’t come out right. What I meant was, I have horrible musical luck. Let me give you a few examples…

Molly, age 8: Here, Daddy. I’ve picked the two cassettes I want for Christmas!

Father: (shakes head) Billy Ray Cyrus and Steppenwolf. I’ve raised a weirdo.

Molly, age 12: Wow! I love this group! I bet they’re going to stay around forever. I can tell I’ll still be listening to them when I’m 50.

Cashier: Sure, kid. And for $2 more, you can join the Spice Girls Fan Club.

Molly, age 18: Gosh, I loved The Fiery Furnaces’ last album. I must be sure to buy the new one and review it for tableau. (Note: Shortly after purchasing the CD, the author threw it in the garbage with howls of dismay and disappointment because it sucked.)

Molly, last week: Hey, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I reviewed the new Ricky Martin CD?

Meg, tableau editor: Why, because you don’t like pop music?

Molly, last week: Yeah, and he’s so lame.

Meg, tableau editor: I guess. But it’d be funnier if you actually liked it.

I think you can guess what happened here. My only defense is to say that Ricky Martin is making a c-o-m-e-b-a-c-k. And I’m going to sacrifice my pride and help him on the way.

My memories of Ricky involve shiny silver shirts, dances at summer camp and explaining to my mother that when someone tells someone else to shake his or her bon bon, it has nothing to do with pastry. In my mind, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was inextricably linked to the other hits of the day, like “Mambo #5″ and J. Lo.’s “Waiting for Tonight.”

That was 1999; this is 2005, and Ricky’s back in the saddle. His new album, Life, will fit right in with the party music of current superstars like Usher, Lil’ Jon and Sean Paul.

The third track, which features both Fat Joe and Amerie, has that familiar synthesized string orchestra, a booming bass line and even some ragged breathing. Amerie’s solo is boosted by heavy vocal effects which add the depth the song needs.

Most of the album has a clubby vibe (a setting in which I might allow Ricky to bring back his silver shirt), but the few exceptions are notable and worth discussion.

The first track, “‘Til I Get to You,” has backing from The Hossam Ramzy Egyptian String Ensemble. Violins, violas and cellos are audible, along with unusual instruments such as a sitar (an Indian stringed instrument, used by The Rolling Stones in “Paint It Black”) and an oud (an Arabic stringed instrument, something like a lute).

The album definitely has what I would call an “ethnic” vibe. Ricky sings in Spanish on practically every track and brings in loads of Latin instruments, as well as traditional Middle Eastern, South Asian and African sounds.

Ricky returns to his roots (not the Latin ones, but the boy-band pop stuff) with the catchy but predictable “Stop Time Tonight.” This song screams for a pre-teen audience but will likely attract old Ricky fans nostalgic for a slow dance with him in the background.

My favorite song is “Drop It on Me,” which is heavily influenced by the guest artists it features: Daddy Yankee and Taboo of The Black-Eyed Peas. As usual, Ricky delivers intensely insightful lyrics, such as “Drop it, mami/ Drop it on me/Tonight it’s a special night, to get you by my side/ I’ve been waiting all week long to get it on with you/ Sometimes we hit the floor, dance like we never did before/ I’m going to put it on you boricua style.” (For those of you not up on your latino lingo, “boricua” is an adjective referring to Puerto Rican culture.)

So here I am, from Billy Ray Cyrus and Steppenwolf to Ricky Martin reincarnate. And as much street cred as I will lose by saying it, Life is dancey, upbeat and catchy as hell. I’d recommend it for any night you want something different than your usual party playlist. Hopefully the critics will agree, and my musical luck will change for the better. Although I bet my dad still thinks I’m a weirdo.

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