Judging by the scruffy facial hair and bad-boy tattoo he sports on the cover, it seems like Ricky Martin got the NKOTB treatment for his new album Life. But while Martin attempts to update his sound with traces of hip-hop and a splash of dancehall on his first English-language album in five years, the template doesn’t stray very far from his blockbuster self-titled release, which mixed Latin club tracks with schmaltz posing as spiritual meditations on life. This time, though, the album’s biggest liability is its song sequence, not its obligatory ballads—it’s not Diane Warren’s fault artists keep buying her songs but she deserves to shoulder some of the blame for “Stop Time Tonight” stopping what little momentum the album’s first half has. Aside from the Scott Storch-helmed lead single, “I Don’t Care,” in which Martin finds his fiancé getting fucked in the back of a car (she bangs, indeed), Life gets off to a remarkably slow start. Martin became famous for shaking his bon-bon, not for his voice, but it’s not until halfway through Life that the album picks up any steam (with the racy-by-numbers “I Am”), after which there’s a string of songs—including “It’s Alright” and the aptly-titled “This Is Good”—that would have each made for a more immediately satisfying comeback than the catchy but formulaic “I Don’t Care,” which features market-researched cameos by Fat Joe and Amerie. “Drop It On Me,” produced by will.i.am and featuring Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, scores tremendous crossover potential by playing right into today’s trends while maintaining Martin’s signature sound. But it’s too bad none of these songs come close to “Living La Vida Loca,” “Maria,” or “The Cup Of Life.” Life‘s first track, “Till I Get To You,” finds Martin doing his best impression of Bono and spewing ambiguities like “Going to change in a new direction/Make a move with a new intention.” Martin seems to be struggling with an identity crisis similar to that of George Michael in the early ‘90s. What’s next? A figurative beard to go with his literal one?
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