Let's face it: after the multi-platinum success of his self-titled 1999 English-language breakthrough, Nuyorican crooner Marc Anthony has little to prove. Everyone knows the guy can sing as passionately in his native English as a pop-meister as he does in his adopted language (Spanish) as a "salsero".
Yet, it's clear with Libre, his first Spanish-language record in more than four years, that Anthony is fully committed to entertaining all of his fans -- the pop listeners who loved the swooning "You Sang to Me" -- and the salsa fanatics who go crazy with his dance-floor Spanish-language numbers. Libre, whose title appropriately enough means "Freedom", is a passionate musical affair of the heart that retains a pop flavor while proving that the 32-year-old singer hasn't lost his hankering for salsa, his first musical love. Anthony apparently believes he has enough talent to do whatever he damn well pleases -- and guess what? -- he's right. Libre, indeed.
In fact, it really comes down to Anthony's vocal finesse being the glue that holds this album together. While Libre contains a fair amount of instrumental complexity -- horns and drums abound in often-unusual arrangements, and the choruses are multi-layered -- the songs themselves are rather formulaic. Most of the tracks begin with imaginative openers that feature Afro-Cuban or pop rhythms, but then move quickly into an aural repetition that's only surmounted by the passion of Anthony's amazingly flexible voice.
And it's a voice drenched in warmth and passion. The sheer force of Marc Anthony's tenor alone takes the quality of the songs on Libre up a few notches. Unlike some singers who can't rise above the level of the songwriting, Anthony manages to drag the songs up to his high standards. If some of the melodies here were stronger and/or more unique, one can only image the potency they'd possess.
While born and raised in New York City, Anthony sings in Spanish as if it were his native tongue. In fact, he seems to almost caress each word before releasing it from his throat. Anthony's vocal intensity transcends the language barrier. Even those who don't understand a word of Spanish will easily know that "Yo Te Quiero" is a love song. Backed by a solid Latin band, his voice dips and soars effortlessly, propelled by a palpable sense of exuberance.
What Anthony gained commercially through his crossover bid a few years ago, aside from a few tracks -- he seemed to lose in creativity; Marc Anthony wasn't exactly a sizzling disc. Libre, however, is a tightly wound (in the best sense of the word) dance album that highlights his tremendous voice and the unique improvisational technique that enables Anthony to get songwriting credits.
Highlights of Libre include the bolero "Hasta Que Vuelvas Conmigo," the fiery "Barco a la Deriva" and the Cuban-flavored "Caminaré," (co-written by Emilio Estefan). With the help of longtime arranger Juan Gonzalez, Anthony's Libre recaptures much of the edginess of his early records, seemingly confident in its bid to woo both Latin and pop audiences. Groundbreaking? Hardly. But it's a sexy, smart-sounding CD, because of the sexy, smart-sounding man behind it.