Make no mistake about it, Marc Anthony is a spectacularly talented singer whose rabid fans (marked by a predominance of swooning young women) will clearly follow him from his salsa base into the middle-of-the-road crossover territory his new label, Sony, has staked out for him. But the loss in musical excitement is regrettable and one wonders how much his bland English-language material can really expand his audience.
Unlike Ricky Martin, a matinee-idol marketing phenomenon of cheerful demeanor , Anthony is the real goods. As a singer, he has power, range, beauty of tone, sensitivity and most of all a rock-solid yet playful sense of rhythm that makes his salsa outings a truly thrilling experience. Now in the midst of a 24-city tour, his performance in concert is just as impressive as on record, with perfect intonation and palpable passion.
Tellingly, Anthony opened with two of his Spanish salsa hits — “Y Hubo Alguien” and “Contra la Corriente” — backed by a tight band of 17 musicians and singers, before switching to a funk-oriented outfit for two English-lingo tunes from last year’s “Marc Anthony,” his Sony debut.
With a shuffle beat kicking things along, “You Sang to Me” had more energy than the CD version, and Anthony’s passion sold “When I Dream at Night” to the worshipful crowd (including scores of women who approached the stage to give him flowers and even touch the bare-footed singer’s feet). But this Michael Bolton-ish material — as with the rest of the tunes on the Sony CD — simply doesn’t measure up to the sophistication of the songwriting on his three previous albums for the RMM label (now reissued by Sony).
When Anthony turned to the ballad “Hasta Ayer” and then to two more of his salsa hits, “Si Te Vas” and “Nadio Como Ella,” the concert hit its high point, with the enthusiastic sellout crowd dancing along.
At a time when the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon and Carlos Santana’s remarkable success with “Supernatural” have proved Latin music can cross over in quite undiluted form, Sony’s handling of this amazing talent seems antiquated and misguided. Rather than force undistinguished material on this fine singer, why not explore other possibilities?
One easy idea would be to re-team Anthony with his former musical partner Sergio George, whose pop-Latin outfit DLG (also on Sony) is making some of the most infectious and upbeat pop this side of Stevie Wonder.