12th April, 2003

Wiki | Video

After two major crossover dance-pop albums whereby he had become the Disney-prince handsome face of Latin Pop for the English-speaking world, Ricky Martin had earned a self-important Spanish-language record. The credits for Almas del Silencio (souls from the silence) are a who's who of Latin pop producers and songwriters, from the omnipresent Emilio Estefan and Estéfano to (masculine) stars who were famous in their own right like Ricardo Arjona, Alejandro Sanz, and (still to be met on this travelogue) Juanes. "Tal Vez" (perhaps), the first single and first Hot Latin #1 from the album, was written by Franco De Vita, who we haven't heard in his own voice since 1991, but who was responsible for my favorite Chayanne song in recent memory.

True to De Vita's form, the song is a power ballad with Srs Rock Instrumentation, and Ricky Martin's soulful voice very nearly gives it the sweep and cheesy emotional heft of a Bryan Adams song. Doubling and trebling his voice in the studio, he fails to match the grain and sounds instead like his own duet partner, a gesture towards solipsism which will mark his career going forward. Like many of the charmed generation who came of musical age around the turn of the millennium, he no longer has to try: he's going to be rich and famous no matter what. All that's left is to fill in the details.

So "Tal Vez" represents one path toward a sustainable career in maturity: the chest-beating ballad singer, attractive because brooding, bleating out his masculine pain. It's not an uncrowded field: many exponents are already regulars here, from Chayanne to Enrique. But it's not entirely a comfortable fit for Ricky, and not even necessarily because of any reluctance to enact traditional gender stereotypes. The key line in "Tal Vez" comes at the end of the third verse: "Tal vez yo nunca supe a quien amaba" (Perhaps I never knew who I loved), a stealth uncloseting under the guise of a straightforward "I did you wrong, babe" ballad. The video makes it a generalized love song, about parent-child and even friend relationships as much as romantic ones, Martin himself only a watchful spirit above it all.

A waste of his dynamic boy-band-bred physicality, you might say. But he'll be back.

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