I’ve never been donkey punched, but I imagine the experience might result in a sensation similar to the effect one gets from “Wepa,” the lead single from Gloria Estefan’s fruit-loopy new album, Miss Little Havana. The culmination of the album’s patina of dress-up dance music (meaning dance music worn in the manner of an expertly executed Halloween costume, both uncannily close to the mark at the same time as it’s jovially self-lampooning), “Wepa” comes on like a speedy outtake from the soundtrack to Dr. Mario, and Estefan doesn’t so much sing the chorus as she donates her voice to the whims of a syncopated Cuisinart. She gyrates phrases like “Arre pote pote pote, arre pote pote pa,” “Il y a de l’amour dans l’air,” and, of course, the two-syllable track title enough to move their inherent, annoying idiocy into something like hallucination. Co-written with husband Emilio Estefan, “Wepa” is as mechanically, impenetrably exhilarating as a carnival midway scrambler, thanks to the typically steely production of the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams.
In committing to a full-length album consisting entirely of hopeful dance-floor killers, the Estefan-Williams-Estefan team deserves credit for managing to avoid the many pitfalls left in dance music’s wake by the likes of David Guetta, Pitbull, LMFAO, and so on. Miss Little Havana isn’t completely free from the synth-rinse overload, but it never removes its tongue from its cheek, especially in songs like “Hotel Nacional,” which undercuts its “New Workout Plan”-pitched beat with wonky Dixieland clarinet riffs, “Heat,” built on the foundation of indescribably cheap-sounding accordion farts, and the totally recherché “Make Me Say Yes,” which, when she repeats the “Make me” refrain over and over, sounds a little bit like what Beaker would sound like if he donned a leisure suit and performed a disco karaoke cover of Britney Spears’s “Gimme More.”
Estefan even reclaims “Let’s Get Loud,” the buoyant house tune she donated to Jennifer Lopez a decade ago, as if to prove both she and her castoffs still have some pep. But like a Hallowen costume, Miss Little Havana makes an impression, even though you probably won’t want to wear it again.