23rd October, 2004

Wiki | Video

Throughout the last decade of this travelogue, whenever Alejandro Fernández has shown up it's been cause for celebration. One of the most tasteful and careful musicians of his generation of Spanish-language pop stars, he's been a better singer than Enrique Iglesias, a more thoughtful selector of material than Ricky Martin, and less interested in chasing trends than Marc Anthony.

And he's paid the relative penalty for it; fewer #1s, of shorter duration, than his peers, and no crossover hits. He hasn't sung in English, remaining a faithfully Mexican star, and he has mostly stayed out of the Anglophone media circus: the Hispanophone media circus is giddy enough on its own.

But his 2004 album A Corazón Abierto (with open heart) signals a change. The classy suits and charro cosplay of his twenties are gone: and the on the cover of the single for "Me Dediqué a Perderte" (I dedicated myself to losing you) he's in a t-shirt and hippie wristbands, like he's trying to be one of those younger, more rock-oriented stars, a Luis Fonsi or a Juanes.

The song is similarly contemporary: although there's still a bolero inflection to the percussion, it's drowned out by the studio drum kit playing straightforward ballad rock. The song was written by Leonel García of Sin Bandera, and that band's generic music-from-nowhere sound has overwhelmed Fernández' classy traditionalism. But then, classy contemporalism gets you hits. For a season.

Fernández the singer is still a marvel: nuanced and emotive, he savors every syllable in his burnished throat like the singer Enrique Iglesias wishes he was. But the song just sits there instead of taking flight: the string arrangements which have so often been a highlight of his appearances here just flutter uselessly instead of providing dramatic contrast.

It's the sound of a singer aging into a comfortable stasis. From here on out, it's increasingly unlikely that Alejandro Fernández will challenge himself or his audience; like Luis Miguel, his place as a permanent fixture of Mexican culture is secure, and he can coast. The kids are coming up from behind.

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