25th November, 2006

Wiki | Video

When we first ran across Sr. Sanz, as the male foil to Shakira in "La Tortura", I was pretty dismissive of his contribution, approving of his weaselly performance of masculinity without attributing much of the song's punch or heft to him, a European interloper on decidedly American (in the hemispherical sense) turf. But this song has me reconsidering my stance.

Alejandro Sanz was born in Madrid to Andalusian parents, and his earliest musical efforts were entries in a postmodern flamenco revival that was briefly fashionable in late-80s Spain. Even when he made the shift into more commercial adult-contemporary ballad material in the early 90s, his phrasing retained echoes of the throaty "gitano" singing style of flamenco tradition. His 1997 worldbeat album Más remains the all-time best-selling record in Spain, and he responded to that ongoing success by becoming a demonstratively "thoughtful" pop star in the mode of a Sting or a Bono, recording increasingly political material and lecturing at Harvard on Hispanic culture.

His global exposure following "La Tortura" meant that his 2006 album was practically guaranteed to be a hit, which makes this one of the strangest #1s we've ever had, as emotionally florid, hyperverbal and structurally anti-pop as some of Juan Gabriel's most lavish excesses. The flowing, pattery verses recall Bob Dylan at his most motormouthed, though Sanz' soulful, gritted-teeth delivery is in both a flamenco and a rock tradition. The drums beat martially, or funereally, and the trumpet which bursts through the moody, atmospheric instrumentation like a grateful sunbeam could equally be a clarion charge or a variation on "Taps."

Because the point of all Sanz' motormouthed excoriation is the old story: love lost, ego bruised, a man on the hunt for his next source of succor. But there's no confidence that he will get it: the chords perversely refuse to resolve, no chorus ever explodes into certainty, there is only another cycle through the same obsessive refrain. It's a strange art-rock curiosity sitting atop the Hot Latin chart for a week, presumably the beneficiary of early digital download metrics sandwiched in between far more conventional radio pop.

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