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POP MUSIC

*** 1/2 RICKY MARTIN, "Vuelve," Sony

March 01, 1998|Ernesto Lechner

There's nothing necessarily wrong with an album whose sole purpose is to sell zillions of copies--especially if it is produced with the sophisticated charm that graces this package.

You'd think that the former singer for the teeny-bopper group Menudo would be a likely candidate for the shallow pop superstar list, releasing music that is at best boyishly pleasant. But Martin defies the odds. His voice is charismatic enough to handle both ballads and up-tempo tunes, his material is solid, and the production by KC Porter and Robi Rosa finds interesting angles even in the most tired cliches.

The ballad "Hagamos El Amor," for instance, should scare you away with its suspicious title ("Let's Make Love") and its string arrangement. Instead, you get a sly use of the orchestral passages, a passionate delivery and an overall mood that belongs only on an album by a real artist.

The surprises don't end there. "La Copa de la Vida," a tune composed for this year's World Cup soccer tournament in France, is a genuinely dangerous stab at Afro-Caribbean beats, punctuated by a punchy brass section. And the album's first single, "Vuelve," with its delicate electric piano and anthemic chorus, confirms that this record will most likely survive the test of time.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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