Ricky Martin

Sound Loaded

  • Columbia

“Livin' La Vida Loca” turned Ricky Martin into an international sensation last year, and his self-titled English-language debut disc sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. Success like that can trigger some very high expectations, and the hip-swiveling singer's not about to wander too far from the playbook on this follow-up disc. It is blatantly formulaic, filled with the same brand of horn-poppin' Latin fever as the previous offering, topped off by tons of timbales, congas, and relentless rhythms.

But whether it fits into the "guilty pleasure" category or not, the album at times is also exceedingly difficult to resist, especially when Martin tears into electrifying dance workouts like the lead single "She Bangs" or the fast and furious "Loaded."

That's the Puerto Rican pop prince's bread and butter, and Martin wisely reaches out to his multi-cultural fans by including separate English and Spanish versions of both of those songs here. He does the same, but with far less impact on the over-emotive "Come to Me," which is one of several cuts here that start to reveal some inherent weaknesses in Martin's approach. For while he absolutely can blow the roof off a joint with his uptempo fare, the star is not nearly as skillful when he shifts direction. His voice is adequate, but at times bland and he doesn't have the dexterity to carry grand-scale pop ballads such as "The Touch." Martin obviously knows his strengths. Whether he builds upon them in a more consistent fashion will be his greatest challenge in the years ahead.

Kevin O'Hare