Ricky Martin's 'Musica + Alma + Sexo' and George Michael's 'Faith'
They both started young: Ricky Martin was 12 when he landed a part in the boy band prototype Menudo; George Michael was in his teens when he co-founded the pop duo Wham! Both became tailfeather-shaking pop stars, although Michael would later chafe at the role. Both were the objects of two of the least surprising un-closetings in history.
And both artists have new (or in Michael's case, new-ish) discs set for release Tuesday: "Faith," Michael's 20-million-served, seismic rumble of an album is being reissued in remastered and expanded form. "Faith" is so influential, so embedded in pop music's binary code, that Martin's new release, "Musica + Alma + Sexo" ("MAS" for short), would have been unthinkable without it.
Michael's post-Wham! solo debut, "Faith" offered a blueprint for future generations of boy band singers looking for a way out. The granddaddy of blue-eyed soul-pop discs, most of it has aged remarkably well, even the parts that were already awkward in 1987: The title track is pure, perfect pop; "I Want Your Sex," faintly ridiculous then, really ridiculous now, is still completely irresistible. Everything else is either as great ("Father Figure") or as wince-inducing ("Monkey") as you remember it.
It's accompanied by a DVD of videos and interviews and a bonus disc featuring instrumental tracks and very '80s remixes by Jam & Lewis and Shep Pettibone, the Dr. Luke of his day. There's also a more expansive (and expensive) package that includes a vinyl LP and various nostalgic flotsam aimed mostly, as they say, at completists.
Twenty-four years on, "Faith" still represents the apotheosis of Michael's career, the moment when everything was just right: He was newly soulful, but still interested in crafting mammoth pop melodies. He was serious, but not yet insufferable. Now stricken with what the British tabloids are calling "creative malaise," Michael hasn't released an album of new material in almost seven years, and an album of good material in going on 15.
Unlike the ever-glummer George Michael, Martin has always given the impression that being taken seriously as an artist would be nice, but not essential. His breakout performance at the 1999 Grammys was one of pop history's greatest confectionary delights, the closest a human being has ever been to actually becoming a piece of candy.
On record, Martin has yet to match the joyousness of that moment; there is something about his music that steadfastly resists any attempts to make it interesting. His recent coming-out has given him a nominal amount of gravitas, which he uses judiciously on "MAS," a multilingual disc that draws equally from the of School of Leftover Miami Club Beats and the School of Anonymous Songs About Tolerance.
It's fluffy and enjoyable, like a Pitbull album, only usually less deep. Potential singles (like the extravagantly good "Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tu") are performed in both English and in Spanish, just in case. Martin seeds this happy, throw-your-hands-in-the-air dance pop with occasional treatises on being yourself ("No Te Miento," "Sera Sera"). But unlike Michael, whose overweening late-career seriousness came to seem like a bit of a drag, Martin comes by his shallowness honestly. He seems thankfully uninterested in giving it up.
Stewart is a freelance writer.
Recommended tracks: "Father Figure," "Faith," "I Want Your Sex" (Michael); "Lo Mejor de Mi Vida Eres Tu," "No Te Miento" (Martin).