Marc Anthony is cool, bad—the kind of guy you hang out with. Enrique Iglesias comes off as intense—the type of guy you sleep with. And Ricky Martin, well, he’s just too good to be true; there’s no chance of getting with him. Those are the keen observations of one of the five single female friends I recently invited over to listen to a few CDs and help discern that catchall phrase for all three of the above: Latin heartthrob. And since we agreed that Martin was basically off-limits, it came down to the other two crooners to prove themselves to these señoritas.
Over in this corner, striking a pensive pose on the cover of his self-titled English-language debut, is 24-year-old, Madrid-born, Miami-raised Enrique Iglesias, gazing yonder with lip-balmed mouth agape, his head slightly down, a heather-gray shirt hugging those chiseled pecs. Maybe he’s remembering. Perhaps he’s just trying to forget.
That’s the effect Iglesias seems to be going for. The album is drenched with infatuation- or hurt-inspired emotion. The kind that still gives the singer butterflies. Iglesias delivers one romantic ballad after another with whispery, yearning vocals à la Chris Isaak. Gentle, sultry, easy on the ears. His lovesick swoons don’t take no for an answer. Some of the words—of which Iglesias helped pen at least half—border on cheese.
Seamlessly produced, overflowing with catchy riffs and danceable beats, Enrique Iglesias has the same glossy appeal as his three previous Spanish albums, with the addition of a Whitney Houston duet and a decent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Sad Eyes.” Almost every track kicks off with a Spanish guitar—probably the producers’ idea of what makes music Latin-tinged.
He opens with his “We Are the World”-style new single, “Rhythm Divine,” the kind of anthem that’s supposed to unite nations at the Olympics—”from the coast of Ipanema to the island of Capri.” Then he gives us “Be With You,” which sounds like a discarded draft of Cher’s “Believe.” Eventually he turns up the momentum with his hip-writhing crossover hit, “Bailamos,” in which he promises, in his breathiest voice, “Tonight we dance.”
Only Latin men can get away with that kind of talk without sounding corny, my lady friends concur. Iglesias’s sexuality oozes out of every number. As the son of Casanova crooner Julio—who my mom used to get jiggy with when our furniture was still covered in plastic—Enrique makes hearts flutter. When he’s onstage, the less aged Iglesias isn’t reminiscing about the girls he loved before, but he’s still serenading all the squealing females, fantasizing about that special one he wants to give his all to.
In concert he’s intimate and vulnerable—you almost feel like rescuing him from love’s ailments. He projects that just-rolled-out-of-bed look, performing in T-shirt and jeans and sporting five o’clock shadow: very different from his loafer-wearing daddy. He’s a brooding poet searching for his muse, a boy standing in front of a bunch of girls, asking to be loved. He gives you that warped 13-year-old-girl feeling that you and he are really going to get together. Really.
He’ll invite up a screeching braces-wearing fan; she’ll embrace his lean body, holding on for dear life, crying and singing along. He bends down, holds her chin, and looks into her eyes with utter tenderness. And then, just when her life couldn’t get any better, just when she’s about to faint, he looks at her with naive sensuality and places a kiss on her lips.
Marc Anthony doesn’t quite work it the way Iglesias does, but much of that may have to do with age. Anthony has wives throwing underwear at him during concerts. Born to Puerto Rican parents in New York 31 years ago, the salsero sounds mature and classy on his current self-titled English CD—so hopelessly romantic he’s almost unfashionable. He earnestly sings of lost love, nostalgia, what could’ve been. How could you not like a guy who feels so passionate about women, and doesn’t hesitate to say so?
The first time I saw Anthony perform, in ’92—he hadn’t sold out Madison Square Garden yet—he was giving a free outdoor show in a San Juan shopping area to promote his first salsa CD. Not much of a stage presence back then; he had long curly hair smoothed down with gel or oil or mousse, and a lanky figure to boot. But as soon as the former Menudo vocal coach opened his mouth and let out the silkiest of notes, he started looking fine.
He was the one who got me listening to a more contemporary version of the kind of salsa records my parents had played at the after-parties of my birthdays when I was a kid. On his three Spanish-language collections, this generation’s biggest salsa star fused Latin beats and modern disco, showcasing a voice that built then finally exploded into exultant crescendos.
His new CD is more keyboarded, drum-programmed, and power-ballad-heavy, reminiscent of music from ’80s movies like Top Gun and An Officer and a Gentleman. He cowrote eight of the songs, and his vocal cords carry all of them. “You Sang to Me” and “That’s Okay” show off his range the best. And “My Baby You,” which Anthony wrote for his daughter, Ariana, sounds so grand it could be part of a Broadway musical—hopefully one with a better fate than The Capeman, in which he played the lead. He belts his stories with such ardor, you never doubt something really important is at stake.
Still, halfway through the album, you feel like shaking Marc out of his melancholy funk and asking him to speed things up. Which he finally does, in his top-three pop smash, “I Need to Know,” an in-your-face number that took me a while to warm up to. By album’s end, the sonero is delivering a treat for longtime fans who miss the kind of tunes that got us listening to him in the first place: “Da la Vuelta,” a beautiful little letting-go number written by big shot Emilio Estefan Jr. and Colombian wordsmith Kike Santander. Too bad finicky Anglo fans couldn’t have been introduced to Anthony and Iglesias (and Ricky Martin) in Spanish. They would’ve figured out what 30 million Latinos in the United States have known all along: We rock.
ENRIQUE IGLESIAS plays Z-100’s Jingle Ball at Madison Square Garden December 16.