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It's The New, Improved Julio Iglesias

September 21, 1986|DENNIS HUNT

What ever happened to the Product?

That's how insiders refer to pop-ballad singer Julio Iglesias. After all, he was peddled to American music fans in 1983-84 in one of the slickest promotional campaigns ever. For years, he was an international superstar who was hot everywhere but the United States. Then all of a sudden, as a result of that niftily choreographed American publicity blitz, Iglesias was everywhere. Back then, one executive from Iglesias' label, CBS Records, said that if the singer were a soft drink, that campaign would have made him bigger than Pepsi.

His 1984 album, "1100 Bel Air Place"--his first in English--was a big hit, finally bringing him the popularity and recognition in this country that he has enjoyed outside the United States since the '70s. His American tour that year was big success, too. But then the Product vanished, almost as quickly as he had appeared. Withdrawal, though, made sense. Had Iglesias maintained that high profile, there was a danger of overexposure.

Since "1100 Bel Air Place," he hasn't had a new album and had been absent from the concert scene until he started a 55-city American tour in late June, which includes a Thursday show at the Hollywood Bowl and concerts Saturday and next Sunday at the Pacific Amphitheater. But concert tours that don't coincide with a new album usually generate less excitement. Many fans, unaware of this tour, probably think Iglesias was one of those one-hit wonders who has been laid to rest in that densely populated pop graveyard.

"I'm alive and well and touring in America," said Iglesias, who's been mostly working outside this country for the past two years. "You Americans won't get rid of me that easily."

Though Iglesias has become a big American star, he's been a handy target for critical potshots. Some have mercilessly attacked his frail, somewhat bleating voice.

Crooners tend to take a severe critical battering anyway. Often they're just handsome guys who sing love ballads that they don't write. Critics frequently dismiss them as marginally talented pretty boys who are basically getting by on looks and a suave, lady-killer manner. That's what some of them have said about Iglesias.

Critics were eager to get at him. It makes sense. Along comes this guy--a real Latin-lover type--backed by this monster promotional machine that force-feeds him to the American public. How would you think critics would react to that? With resentment and venom, of course. They blasted him, but it didn't derail the Julio Express. American women--mostly those older than 25--haven't stopped swooning.

In person, Iglesias is so charming and gracious that you start to wonder quietly, "Is this guy for real?" Apparently he is. On the gossip grapevine--which is surprisingly accurate--you never hear anything about Iglesias being a surly, insufferable egomaniac in private.

And does he love the United States. He should be doing ads for Uncle Sam. Here are samples of his flag-waving comments:

"America is a great country. . . . I love America. . . . America is the youngest country in the world. . . . I wanted to make it in America so badly because music means so much here. . . . What an incredible country this is." And these are some of the more modest ones.

All this gushing from a guy who isn't even a native. Iglesias was born in Madrid, the son of a surgeon. He's been speaking English for just 2 1/2 years. When I first interviewed him two years ago, his English was passable. Now he's fluent.

English was a problem for him on his "1100 Bel Air Place" album. He wasn't able to hide his tentativeness with the language, resulting in a performance that's consistently wooden. His vocals have neither the emotion nor the smoothness of those on his foreign albums (he sings best in Spanish). On "1100 Bel Air Place," he sounds like he's singing in a unfamiliar language--which he was.

"I had to phonetically memorize everything before singing it," he said. "For me, the music of America was new. I didn't grow up with it. I didn't spend time in this country to get to know the character, the humor--to get a feel for life here. That's all part of interpreting the music."

For the past year and a half, Iglesias has been at work on his second English album. The language problem that plagued him during the recording of the first one has been conquered.

"Now I understand the language so much better," he said. "I don't have to think about the lyrics phonetically. I can get much more involved in the sound. The phrasing can be better. It's much more natural. I don't have to think when I'm singing. I can concentrate on getting into the feeling of the song."

There probably won't be any duets on the new album, which is due early next year. What a switch. The hit singles on the last album were duets--"To All the Girls I've Loved Before" with Willie Nelson, and "All of You" with Diana Ross.

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