At their early 1990s peak, Gustavo Cerati and his band Soda Stereo were widely regarded as the Police of Argentina.
And with his Byronic good looks, anguished vocals and alternately ambient and power-riffing guitar playing, Cerati, the trio's frontman, suited the role of a South American Sting.
After Soda Stereo split up in 1997 over creative differences, Cerati pushed forward with his own successful solo career, much like the British rocker otherwise known as Gordon Sumner.
So it didn't escape notice when Soda Stereo decided to stage a reunion tour in 2007 — the same year that the Police re-formed to tour.
Asked about the timing in a phone interview last week, Cerati laughed.
"I don't want to talk about coincidence because it's relative," said Cerati, who'll make a rare L.A. appearance Wednesday at the Nokia Theatre. "We didn't know it was the year of the Police. It was the year of reunions for many bands. We tried to be original but, again, we couldn't! But it was a very happy process."
Although the band's longtime followers hoped the tour might spark a new record, Cerati said he didn't want to "make something new with Soda Stereo if I wasn't in a good moment."
"We recovered a lot of emotions that were broken in the last years of the band," he added. "We didn't talk a lot in the last years of the band," he continued.
His re-encounter with bandmates Charly Alberti, Soda Stereo's drummer, and bassist Zeta Bosio, also left him artistically spent. "All my forces, my passion, came back, and after that I took a break."
Although the reunion was "a very happy process," Cerati regards it as "just a bubble."
When he eventually felt ready to write songs and return to the studio, it took him barely a month to put the material together for his fifth and latest solo album, last year's "Fuerza Natural" (Natural Force). In keeping with Cerati's customary method, it draws listeners in with jangly, de-centered harmonies, enigmatic, image-rich lyrics and plaintive, introspective vocals, then counter-punches with sharp electric guitar jabs.
Unlike many of his male rock peers, Cerati as a vocalist shuns macho posturing. He's not afraid of sounding vulnerable, even bereft, in ruminating about estranged lovers or broken affairs. He proved a natural partner for Shakira, singing two duets on her bestselling album "Fijación Oral, Vol. 1" (on which he also served as a producer). His 2006 solo release "Ahí vamos" (There We Go), possibly his best, swung easily between tender reflections and taut, muscular arrangements, and its second single, "La Excepción" won the Latin Grammy Award for best rock song.
For "Fuerza Natural," which he co-produced with Hector Castillo, Cerati said he wanted to musically convey the sense of the power of the natural world, "big storms and the sea and animals." The record achieves a distinctive folk flavor through the spot-use of acoustic instrumentation, including mandolins, intricate keyboard layering by Didi Gutman of the Brazilian Girls and the nuanced textures of such collaborators as lap steel and bass player Byron Isaacs.
Cerati cited his relationship with Castillo in helping to make these disparate elements coalesce. "I have a very deep understanding with him, and he has a lot of experience to work with artists I admire, David Bowie, Tom Waits."
Born in Buenos Aires in 1959, Cerati was among the first rock stars to emerge from the cultural upheaval that accompanied the final collapse of Argentina's brutally repressive military junta in 1983. Like other musicians of his generation, he learned English from listening to U.S. and British rock and pop records. The Rolling Stones have shaped his country's music so much, Cerati said, that many Argentines consider them an Argentine band.
But as much as he was nurtured by the Stones, Beatles, Bowie and others, Cerati believes it's best that Anglo-American artists no longer monopolize global pop.
"When we began, all the people said to us, ‘No way, man, if you don't sing in English,' " he said. "Now I think it's changing. Each time I go to L.A. or Miami or New York I find more people who don't know the Spanish words but who like my [music]."
Cerati said that he has structured his current tour in two parts. He devotes the first half to "Fuerza Natural," and draws the second's playlist from his other records. Sometimes as a musician, he said, he needs this type of methodical orderliness in order to create. When he craves quiet contemplation, he retreats to his beach home on the Uruguayan coast.
But sooner or later, he heads back to his Buenos Aires studio and lets the emotions loose.
"In a way I'm saying to you, I'm not an artist all the time," he concluded. "Just in my heart."