The Energy Box

Ricky Martin's voice is pleasant but not all that strong, and it's rather plain to boot. Of course, one can say the same about Fred Astaire's, and Astaire is one of the great singers of the last century. But Astaire gave his voice an easy thoughtfulness, used conversational rhythms as if he were thinking up the words on the spot. Whereas Ricky is boxing himself into a role that calls for energy, and he's using that energy as a selling point, which means he's got to make like he's giving you el vocal loco, even when he isn't. He doesn't have the piercing or dominating voice that the role calls for, just as when he does the romantic swoony thing he doesn't have the necessary extravagance. He compensates by double-tracking vocals, pumping up arrangements, and getting background singers to climb the peaks. I have nothing against any of these strategies—the goal is to make good records, not to demonstrate vocal prowess. But the quality I like most in his voice is its gentleness. Sometimes the gentleness manages to predominate, despite its being at odds with the material (and as I said above about "Livin' La Vida Loca," this is an achievement, to combine gentleness and energy). Sometimes the gentleness is overpowered and abandoned and the result is wooden. But even then there's an interesting and occasionally exciting fusion or concoction going on, though I'm not sure it's been achieved yet or where it's headed, or if this is a man who can do it.

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