No more living la vida loca for Ricky Martin. Now, the bon-bon-shaking pop star is living the thug life.
Or so we're to believe, based on the cover of Martin's new album, "Life." There, the once-sprightly Puerto Rican pretty boy is wearing his tough-guy best: Gloomy expression, jarheadish 'do, at least 28 hours' worth of facial scruff and some sort of big, dumb, monochromatic tattoo on his left shoulder. It's the hardened look that one might get by working with the stylists from the International Male catalogue.
While Martin may indeed be mad as hell -- quite possibly at William Hung for having turned "She Bangs" into an international punch line -- he hardly sounds it throughout "Life," a just-slightly-above-average album that manages to come across as predictable and yet adventurous, at least for a Ricky Martin record. (Fiery Furnaces or Ozomatli, he ain't.) Think of "Life" as a sampler platter of global music trends that includes everything from the old sounds of Cairo to the freshest from Puerto Rico but that features as its centerpiece the sort of standard-issue pop and R&B that fills the U.S. Top 40.
No wonder he's getting his brood on in "Life's" cover photo.
But don't be fooled by the posturing. On his first English-language release since 2000's "Sound Loaded," all Martin really wants is to be wuvved.
"I just wanna be yours," he bellyaches on "I Don't Care," the Usheresque, Scott Storch-produced lead single, in which Martin sings of a cheating fictional fiancee before the rapper Fat Joe and R&B diva Amerie steal the show with their vocal cameos.
"I think I love you, and I need you by my side," Martin announces in the foot-stomping bridge of the funk-lite "It's Alright."
"I just want to stay with you / For always / Al-wayyyyyys," he sings in the maudlin "Stop Time Tonight."
The CD's opening track, "Til I Get to You," features Martin telling his "one and only temptation" about all the things he plans to do to pass the time "til I find you, feel you, breathe you, touch you, taste your truth." For those who can't spare 4 minutes 55 seconds -- the length of the to-do list-cum-Middle Eastern-tinged power ballad -- Martin's self-assigned tasks include: swimming the mountains (huh?), climbing the sea (double-huh??), passing the smiling faces with the hidden rage and making a move with a new intention. "Never gonna stop," he sings, "til I get to you."
Unless, that is, the horny bug bites Martin during his journey. At which point all bets are off. All clothes, too.
In fact, they may be crumpled up on the bedroom floor already. Consider the dirty little ditty "I Am," which hints at both crunk and reggaeton. (Besides discovering the joys of Middle Eastern music during the making of "Life," which even features the Hossam Ramzy Egyptian String Ensemble, Martin apparently had a revelation about reggaeton's global marketability. To wit: The hit single "I Don't Care" even gets pushed through the reggaeton remix blender at the end of the album, courtesy of the genre's top hitmakers, the Luny Tunes.) Anyway, in the midst of cooing an entire lyric sheet's worth of come-ons during "I Am," Martin blurts, "I like it when you bend like that." Similarly, on the thumping "Drop It on Me" -- an infectious club-hit-in-waiting that features a jaw-dropping verse by Daddy Yankee and one of those delightful, galloping reggaeton rhythms -- Martin encourages a boricua to "drop it, mami" and "give it all."
And he really means all -- "wicked, dirty, sticky" inclusive, as per the multi-culti dance track "This Is Good." Sonically, the up-tempo song builds on an R&B and hip-hop foundation by adding Latin American chants, salsa's circular piano loops and some Qawwali-like vocals. Lyrically? This pretty much sums it up: "I got your salt skin dripping on the tip of my tongue."
Maybe that's what the new hard-core image is all about: Ricky Martin, living libido loco!
J. Freedom du Lac will conduct an online chat from 1 to 2 p.m. tomorrow at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.