20th March, 1999

Our second encounter with Juan Luis Guerra in four months (in chart time, not blog time!) sees a total transformation in approach, content, and even form. Where "Mi PC" was a tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of the brave new computerized frontiers of the late 90s delivered as a whirling merengue, "Palomita Blanca" is an uber-classicist romantic love song delivered as an ornate bachata. They both came from the same album, the 1998 Ni Es Lo Mismo Ni Es Igual (it's neither the same nor equal), one of the hyperliterate, restlessly innovative singer-songwriter's best-selling albums across his multiple fanbases.

The song's title has been used over and over again in popular (and folkloric, and classical) Spanish-language music: the "little white dove" invoked is a traditional Spanish and Latin-American image of purity, hope, and love. Guerra begs the dove to carry his message to a sundered love: "Tell her that the nights have not been quiet / They've talked of love and haven't gone / Tell her that I love her and miss her / That I haven't forgotten and that I've suffered." The harmonies suffusing this chorus are as crystal-saccharine as in the country-rock/soft-rock prime of the Anglophone 1970s (or maybe I'm forcing an association with the café's soundtrack of Pure Prairie League and John Denver leaking through my earbuds as I write this), creating a gorgeous romantic bed for the extravagant neediness of Guerra's lyric.

Since it's missing the complicating irony of his earlier appearances on this travelogue, it would be tempting to call "Palomita Blanca" a lesser work, but pop doesn't work that way. It became his signature love song, the song that even people who wouldn't normally care for his intellectual games and political grandstanding will happily sing along with, the sugar pill (including very traditional gender roles) to make the rest of his more modernist, idea-heavy discography go down more easily. He was always able to pull out something this uncomplicatedly beautiful; that he hadn't before — or that it hadn't been so successful before — is one more element of his skeptical relationship with the pop stardom thrust upon him.

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