We gave it a B-
Inch for inch and insect for insect, Ricky Martin has more ants in his pants than anyone since Elvis the Pelvis fruitlessly tried to shake out an infestation. (Doesn’t he know bon-bons are a surefire way to attract a whole colony?) Martin’s serviceable voice doesn’t have half the character his hips do, so the key to enjoying his recorded music is being able to at least envision that accomplished wiggle in concert, where he’s in his itchy element.
Sound Loaded, his second album of mostly English-language material, provides plenty of satisfactory opportunity for fans to visualize just how loosely the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone. ”She Bangs” opens with a teasing snatch of sputtering Spanish guitar before the inevitable disco thump settles in, followed by the equally inevitable (to anyone who’s heard ”Livin’ la Vida Loca”) driving horn section and gringo-friendly electric-guitar line. Less than two years after the crossover phenomenon erupted in earnest, this kitchen-sink approach to Latin American pop already sounds incredibly formulaic — albeit a formula that still has some life in it. There’s an even better use of this cross-cultural ear-candy recipe a few tracks later on ”Loaded,” a great shot of mambo-rock that’s like Lou Bega on amphetamines. During the ballads, though, you may be the one getting antsy. Songwriter-producer Desmond Child, who had a hand in six of these tunes, never met a synth-ballad cliché he didn’t want to recycle, and Child actually gets the chance to team up on a song here with Diane Warren, perhaps his only equal in that regard; the resulting hyper-power ballad, ”The Touch,” is so shameless — and, of course, so soaringly tuneful — you likely won’t be able to escape it in 2001, even if you sign up for Big Brother II just to get away. Martin doesn’t have the heroic chops to transcend this kind of silly/classy assembly-line material, the way a Toni Braxton might. The upbeat numbers are more reliably kicky, though not every one of those is a winner, either : The album has a camp classic in ”One Night Man,” a retro ode to quick, anonymous sex that, with its pandering Spanglish promiscuity, manages to make Martin sound like a dopey parody of a Latin lover.
But, as with all of Sony Music’s Latin-pop crossover efforts, you can always skip the early tracks and drop into the album two-thirds of the way through, when the gloppy balladry is mostly over and some of the livelier, more Latin-flavored numbers are reprised en espanol. If your Spanish is as rusty as mine, these instant remakes provide a great chance to be less distracted by the crushing vapidity of the romance-novel rhymes and concentrate on the more pressing matter at hand: shaking those damn bugs out of your britches. B-