Ricky Martin is back and ready to please bon-bon shakers everywhere with the follow-up to his massively successful English-language debut, 1999's Ricky Martin. The Menudo alumnus doesn't suffer the sophomore slump on Sound Loaded (it's not his second album after all; just his second in English), instead offering up the same punchy pastiche of Latin instrumentation, dance club beats, and AC ballads that made his previous outing a worldwide smash.
Teaming once again with Robi Rosa and other top-notch songwriters, Martin has delivered another surefire hit album. Although there's no single moment on Sound Loaded to rival his first crossover hit, "Livin' la Vida Loca", the song "Loaded" comes damn close. In addition to having wildly catchy hooks, both songs combine disparate sounds -- '60s pop and Latin with occasional hard-rock vocal intonations -- without a second thought.
Unfortunately but expectedly, there are some crummy ballads which, in spite of Martin's competent vocals, are the lowlights of this collection. "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely" and "The Touch" (co-written by Diane Warren, the contemporary songwriter most likely to be revealed as the antichrist) could be performed by any American R&B singer or boy band, and probably with more technical proficiency and emotion than Martin can muster. His power as a performer is best showcased on hyperkinetic dance tracks like "She Bangs" and "Loaded", but during the course of most of Sound Loaded, Martin concentrates on mid-tempo Latin numbers with intricate percussion, wailing horns, and lyrics about the pleasures and perils of romance.
One of the best of these mid-tempo numbers is "Amor", which starts off sounding like a rewrite of the Santana / Rob Thomas hit "Smooth". Thankfully, that's not the case, as the song turns into something much more interesting and satisfying. With a bridge highlighted by a percussion break, a truncated pop-rock guitar solo, and a lazy, lolling piano, "Amor" -- and the fabulous closer "Cambia la Piel" -- prove once again that Martin is the only one of the stars of the "Latin explosion" who actually makes Latin-sounding music on a regular basis.
The only real caveat to be offered about Sound Loaded is that three of the album's fifteen tracks are Spanish-language versions of previous titles. It's a bit dull hearing the same music twice in one sitting, even if the lyrics are different, but Martin and his cohorts probably figured it was better to bore a few than to risk offending his many Latin fans. After all, pleasing everyone is what Ricky Martin is all about. And so it goes; Sound Loaded isn't going to convert anyone who wants to kick Martin's shimmying ass back to Puerto Rico, but it's going to make everyone who already loves him happy.