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Los Angeles Times

Ricky, Act II With 'Sound Loaded,' His Hotly Anticipated Follow-Up Album, Hit-Maker Ricky Martin Aims To Prove He's More Than A Flash In The Pan-American Music Genre


November 13, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Times Mirror Company. All Rights Reserved.

A year ago, Ricky Martin was a newly arrived force of nature, whirling and grinning his way across the pop culture landscape and living a life that was not only loca, it was loquisima--crazy to the extreme. Now, with a follow-up album due in stores Tuesday, the heartthrob from Puerto Rico is confronted with perhaps his most difficult dance step: What can he possibly do for an encore?

Martin's "Sound Loaded" is not only one of the most anticipated pop releases of this holiday season, it's also one of the most intriguing for stargazers. Martin, after all, cut his show-biz teeth as a child sensation with Menudo, that glossy, youth-pop group that scored huge international success and then . . . fizzled and faded away.

Could Martin ride that roller coaster again? He chuckled when asked the question by phone Saturday during a quiet moment during rehearsals for "Saturday Night Live" in New York.

"I have learned a lot, and I've had a lot of ups and downs already in this business," the 28-year-old singer said. "I've played to 100,000 people in a stadium and then 15 people . . . you just have to be optimistic."

Martin says "Sound Loaded" is his best work yet, which is what matters most to him. "Success is about emotions and letting things flow. It's also about knowing that I can't compete with myself."

Few could compete with the Ricky Martin of 1999. He was catapulted into a rarefied level of success after a rousing rendition of his "Cup of Life" at the Grammys introduced him to an American audience at precisely the same time that a growing interest in Latin and Spanish-language pop was percolating in record stores. Women swooned at his sculptured face and lusty dancing; there was a run on stores for his albums; and, for good or bad, he became the face for what was being called a Latin music movement.

His song "Livin' La Vida Loca" became a massive hit, helping sell 6.7 million copies of the album "Ricky Martin." In its first week it sold 661,000 copies--the highest-ever seven-day total by a Latin artist. Even if the new disc matches those sales at retail, Martin's camp says it's unlikely the singer will be able to tap into the nation's musical zeitgeist as he did in 1999.

"The Grammys, the Time cover and the 'Livin' La Vida Loca' video--all those magic moments one year ago," Martin's manager, Ricardo Cordero, says wistfully. "It's impossible to do it again. You can spend all the money that you have in advertising and gimmicks, but those moments that create the happening, the momentum . . . it was like a hurricane."

He paused and then added, "Now we don't have a hurricane. We have a sun."

So far, the signs are good that Martin's new music will shine.

The first single is "She Bangs," a rousing rave-up with powerful percussion that--just like "La Vida Loca" and "Maria"--has Martin telling the tale of a wild woman who may be hard to let go and even harder to hold. The erotic images running through the song and video are up a notch from "Loca" and will likely do no harm to Martin's hunk status.

The video was No. 1 on the MTV playlist last week and is a regular contender on "Total Request Live," the daily phone-in show that plays viewer requests. On radio, "She Bangs" is shaping up to be a major hit as well.

At Z-100, the powerhouse pop station in New York, the tune is currently one of the 10 most-played songs and is getting "very strong" response in audience surveys that play a major role in taste-shaping for the broadcasting giant.

"We're already seeing great signs with the single that the album is poised to have a good showing," says Tom Poleman, senior vice president of programming at Z-100, which boasts the largest audience of any U.S. station. "It's important because out of the gate some people were skeptical of the follow-up effort. There's always the naysayers out there and an artist has to re-prove themselves on each single. But he has: His career has legs after all."

There were plenty of people who assumed that Martin would be consigned to the dusty corner of music history reserved for one-hit wonders and fleeting novelty acts. Just last week, a Washington Post columnist put Martin's name on a list of people who have overstayed their welcome in pop culture. Martin is "living la vida gone-za," the writer quipped.

Critics have often been less than kind to Martin as well. Although he is given high marks for his stage presence, energy and charisma, he is also just as often dismissed as being mostly sex appeal sizzle with little artistic heft.

Cordero, Martin's manager and longtime friend, says the singer is now accustomed to the dismissive appraisals of his career and art. Cordero recalls that when Martin scored a hit with "Maria" in Latin America to launch his current incarnation as a solo artist, the sometime actor and onetime member of Menudo was labeled a flash in the pan. He followed up with another monster hit, "Cup of Life," which made him a star in Europe--where the critical chorus, again, called him a passing fad. "La Vida Loca" started the whole process over in the U.S., Cordero says.

'Getting Closer to My Roots'

Now Martin is focused on building on his success and range of material. He would also like to see more emphasis in the press on his new work instead of his past career and his personal life.

There are, for instance, 1,360 words in the biography of Martin sent to the music press with his new album, but Menudo is not mentioned once. And his representatives and friends are quick to point out that the star is increasingly weary of questions about his romantic life.

Instead, the priority for Martin is "Sound Loaded" and its success.

"On the last album we went closer to the Anglo sound," Martin said. "That Latin sound was always there, but with this one it's more aggressive and I'm getting closer to my roots. . . . There's also some big band elements, a little bluesy, jazzy sound, tango, everything. I'm completely satisfied with this album."

Label officials at Sony-owned Columbia Records declined to make predictions about "Sound Loaded," but Martin's manager agreed with some retailer projections that first-week sales may reach the 600,000 to 700,000 range.

Musicland executive Scott Levin says his chain, which includes more than 1,300 stores, views "Sound Loaded" as one of the big sellers for the holidays, although he said it will not match the torrid pace set by the likes of the Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync. Unlike those heartthrobs, Martin's fan demographic skews older.

"It's a much broader range, from 16-year-old girls to people like my mom, who's in her 60s," Levin said. "There is some pressure on him this time around because now he is a known commodity and expectation level is higher, but a single like that looks like a home run."

Cordero hopes so. He remembers his client and friend during the halcyon Menudo days and then saw him re-create himself and find success in a solo spotlight of intense power. On Tuesday, he said, Martin will be campaigning to keep that light shining.

"Tuesday is our election day. And we want to win. We really do."

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