Recordings

Ricky Martin
Ricky Martin
(Columbia Records)

Whatever happened to the good old days, when the Grammy Awards were a joke and everybody knew it? Grammyland used to be a fanciful place where Jethro Tull was the pre-eminent hard rock band, while Toto and Christopher Cross were recognized as Mozarts of the modern age.

These days, the Grammys remain pretty ludicrous, but they put up just enough of a respectable front to sucker the masses. As a result, the show has become a strangely powerful force in the industry's ever-important drive to move product. For solid proof, look no further than the example of pseudo-opera singer Andrea Bocelli, a Grammy honoree who currently has three albums that are outselling Alanis Morissette's latest.

Better yet, consider Ricky Martin. Three months ago, he was a 27-year-old hunk o' carne asada still trying to live down his Menudo past; beloved in the Latin music community, but a nonstarter among gringos. Well, Martin may have taken the Grammy stage as a cult artist, but he exited five minutes later as a superstar, thanks to a razzle-dazzle version of "The Cup of Life," the formulaic motivational anthem that was the official song of last year's World Cup.

Suddenly, in the blink of a cultural eye, Martin has become the pop icon of the moment, a sex symbol who can induce mass hysteria with a mere flash of those pearly whites. Although his self-titled new album--his first in English--was largely complete by the time of his Grammy breakthrough, the entire project feels like a carefully calibrated response to new stardom, executed with all the cold-hearted precision of a tank maneuver.

Take your pick: Martin is the male Gloria Estefan, a sexier Jon Secada, a more sophisticated Gerardo, or a younger Julio Iglesias. No matter how you slice it, the music comes out ultra-bland.

Martin sings decently enough, but his vocal style is considerably less distinctive than his pecs. His tendency to alter his rather anonymous approach on different songs reaches a bizarre peak on his soppy duet with Madonna, "Be Careful (Cuidado Con Mi Corazon)," in which he sounds for all the world like Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night in "Out in the Country."

Martin is essentially a hired gun on his own album, which really belongs to his inner Child--more specifically, Desmond Child, the cheese-rock song doctor who got Aerosmith and Bon Jovi on the radio in the '80s. Child produced and co-wrote the bulk of this album, and he fires his best shots at the beginning, with two fast guilty pleasures: the Celia Cruz-meets-Duane Eddy bop of "Livin' La Vida Loca" and the processed salsa of "Spanish Eyes."

More often, though, Child offers up such tripe as "Shake Your Bon-Bon," a flat funk number that promises to "go around the world in a day," but barely makes it around the block. Sample lyric: "Up in the Himalayas/C'mon I wanna lay ya." Come back, Luke Campbell, all is forgiven.

Ultimately, the most intriguing thing about this CD (and the one component that bears Martin's own stamp) is the booklet's list of thank-yous. Martin not only thanks Madonna ("You rock BIG BUTTERFLY") and fashion designer Giorgio Armani, but a host of spiritual inspirations, real and imagined, including Swami Yogananda Giri, "God and Guru," the Himalayas, and "Puri in beautiful Orissa." What, no Meher Baba?

Martin may have his mind set on transcendence and enlightenment, but Child keeps this album squarely focused on the cash registers of America. This hack wouldn't know a soulful moment if it bit him on the bon-bon.

--Gilbert Garcia

Buckcherry
Buckcherry
(DreamWorks)

Looking suitably worn, as if the 30 miles of hard road was only the toccata, Buckcherry singer Joshua Todd sports the kind of lithe frame and troubled complexion that suggests more than just a random mingling with coke, speed and booze.

Todd's pallor (and all of Buckcherry, really) and vox are borne of pure rock 'n' roll mythologizing and the simple-minded and dead-endish push of its limitations. Understanding that rock 'n' roll was all about exploiting limitations, not conceding to them, is what keeps Buckcherry from getting laughed off the planet for still hawking the stuff; you can't laugh at somebody who is in on the joke.

Steve Jones, onetime guitar Deus, now the butt of countless jokes on either side of the Atlantic, co-produced this worthy Buckcherry disc with Tony Dale. Jones junked up the band's jiz with patented Pistolesque Les Paulage throughout, the end result being less AC/DC/Crowes and more Lizzy/Pistols. (Damn if the chorus on "Related" doesn't bring Phil Lynott around the Ouija board sniffin' for whiskey.)

A song Joan Jett forgot to write, "Get Back," sees a quixotic gent getting dumped by the one he loves, played out over a truncated "Stepping Stone" riff. "Lit Up," a four-on-the-floor spit-along currently stomping fun back into AOR, hilariously uses cocaine as the metaphor for a guy who can't stop fucking.

"Crushed," "Dead Again" and "Dirty Mind" are self-exegetic plunders with monster, major-chord choruses, Marshall stacks, and testosterone. "Borderline" falls short of its Stonesy precursor, but gets points anyway for not parroting the Crowes.

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