Ricky Martin’s second English-language album can be divided into two relatively equal parts: the English part and the good part. The English part isn’t so much bad as it is bland, and its predictability is unsettling. The first single, “She Bangs,” is only slightly different from his landmark hit, “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” The same can be said for most of the album. “Saint Tropez” begins with a tropical Latin beat, but Martin’s singing is methodical and predictable, as are the lyrics: “We’re making love with just one glance.”
“Loaded,” written by Jon Secada and produced by Emilio Estefan Jr., finds Martin in familiar territory with an infectious Latin swing-beat and inconsequential lyrics (“Do your jiggy mama till the break of dawn!”). The track “Jezebel” contains one of the most mystifying lyrics of the year: “Slippery and dangerous/You’ve got a camera down your shirt.” There’s a common theme of frivolous danger throughout the album: dangerous places, dangerous nights and dangerous, one-dimensional women that need to be escaped.
Ballads like “Nobody Wants To Be Lonely” sound like they were recorded using the latest technology from 10 years ago. (You’ll swear it’s Ricky Martin doing karaoke to Jon Secada songs). Martin’s vocal is dark and brooding, reminiscent of Journey’s Steve Perry. The Diane Warren offering this time around is “The Touch,” a track filled with so many oh-so-daring key changes that you’d think you were listening to a medley of adult contemporary hits.
The good part of the album begins with the one-night-stand manifesto “One Night Man.” Its tight rhythms overshadow the absurdity of it all (“Take me home, take me to the zone”). “Are You In It For Love” and “If You Ever Saw Her,” produced by Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling (Cher’s “Believe”), are two club-thumping tracks with genuine soul and personality. The former is even somewhat personal, questioning a girl’s devotion as a ploy to get to the top, while the latter immortalizes a woman Martin has worked with: “She’s every dream-girl from Monroe to Madonna.”
Spanish versions of songs like “She Bangs” are unnecessarily scattered throughout the second half of Sound Loaded. It seems Martin is concerned with not alienating his original core audience, but he’d serve them much better if he just threw in a few Spanish-language originals like the closing number “Cambia La Piel.” In general, Martin is better off singing in his native tongue, where his vocals seem more natural and less contrived.
Sound Loaded is pretty much a continuation of Martin’s last album: a nice package of Latin-flavored pop tunes and saccharine love songs. Unfortunately, Martin is a product of a time where pop artists rarely grow, and each album delivers material identical to the last. Pop music listeners are no longer challenged the way they were with artists like George Michael or Prince. However, those are artists who had more creative control over their careers (Martin doesn’t write or produce his music). Sound Loaded is definitely loaded with hits, but they’re the type of disposable hits that won’t be on radio’s recurrent list 10 years from now.