Señor Coconut and His Orchestra
Once it's cute. Twice it's not so cute. Three times and it's starting to get on my nerves. That's the response you'd expect upon hearing that German DJ/producer Uwe Schmidt (a.k.a. Atom Heart) has taken another ride on the conga line as his alter ego, Señor Coconut. Disillusioned with the German dance scene, Schmidt moved to Chile in the mid-'90s, created the Coconut doppelgänger and set about releasing albums of space-age, bachelor-pad salsa spiked with unlikely covers of Kraftwerk ("El Baile Aleman") and merengue drum 'n' bass ("El Gran Baile").
The Kraftwerk covers worked because Schmidt was able to convert the German techno forebear's robotic beats into warm, sexy Latin jams, but his hackneyed choice of covers on his third album, Fiesta Songs, suggests that this party has run out of Coconut juice. "Smoke on the Water (ChaChaCha)" sounds as promising as that cheeky retitling at first, but it morphs into a bad Holiday Inn lounge band parody as farting horns and congas mix with Spanglish lyrics on the Deep Purple classic. (Oddly, a hidden, all-Spanish version of the song works much better, as it strips the cheesy classic rock onus off the chorus and gives it a slinkier strut.)
Sade's "Smooth Operator (MamboChaChaCha)" is already so close to a mambo it seems redundant to cover, but Schmidt gives it a cosmetic makeover with vibes, Latin percussion, horns and a thickly accented vocal. With their painfully corny mannerisms, though, the cover songs mostly come off like SNL member Fred Armisen's hokey Fericito character rather than as clever interpretations of modern song. Originals such as "El Rey de las Galletas" and the festive "Eletrolatino" fare better, with the latter's mix of Latin sounds and modern cut 'n' paste production offering a nice example of what could have been.
And, in the "one that shouldn't work at all, but actually does" category, a frantic cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It (Merengue)" mixes West Side Story-like whispered vocals with spare, techno-y bongo beats, off-kilter horn bleats and a furious vibes solo. At the very least, Fiesta Songs is a party album that will elicit an "Is that?" reaction...the first time.
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