Soda Stereo, Doble vida

‘Doble Vida’ at 35: Soda Stereo’s Great Consolidation in Perspective

When Soda Stereo’s Doble Vida reached the hands of their fervorous fans, it was clear: the boys wanted to make it big – even bigger than they already were.

Doble Vida
Soda Stereo
CBS Records
15 September 1988

In early 1988, guitarist and vocalist Gustavo Cerati, bassist Héctor “Zeta” Bosio, and drummer Charly Alberti were well on their way to becoming greats among greats. Wrapping up the tour behind their third studio album, 1986’s Signos, Soda Stereo enraptured audiences throughout big centers and small towns in their native Argentina. They also became a massive phenomenon in other places in South America: Chile, Uruguay, Peru, and Colombia had already bowed before the trio’s mesmerizing mix of fantastic looks, brilliantly crafted songs, and amazing musicianship.

In their recently re-democratized native land, they were taken as a spearheading act, frontrunners in a generation with plenty of musical masterpieces to speak of by then. Being the biggest band in Argentina was to be expected; being the biggest band in Latin America, albeit far-fetched at first, seemed like a logically coveted spot. With the conclusion of their most successful album cycle, the three young men faced the obvious question: What next?

By the time Doble Vida, their next effort, finally reached the hands of their fervorous, eager listeners, one thing was clear: the boys wanted to make it big – even bigger than they already were. By enlisting a then-already legendary producer to helm the boards of an equally sacred studio, Soda Stereo had, in Star Trek parlance, dared to go where no one had gone before. Argentinian rock had seen several pivots to superstardom by then; one of their most legendary musicians, Charly García, made several similarly ambitious moves before. But Soda Stereo was a band, strictly speaking: a group of young, charming, insanely talented men with big ideas and the drive to make them work. Thirty-five years later, Doble Vida still sounds as rich, pristine, melodic, and powerful as it must have all these years ago. 

If Soda Stereo’s idea were to go big from the get-go, they would have to choose someone wise enough to help them get there. Through the recommendation of fellow Argentinian and luthier Rudy Pensa (who’d been living in New York City for the better part of a decade by then), the trio managed to get in touch with puerto-rican guitarist and producer Carlos Alomar. In addition to working with household names such as Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, Alomar served as the musical director and main collaborator to David Bowie through what was already considered some of his most untouchable work (the Berlin Trilogy, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and Let’s Dance, to name a few).

Alomar was eager to work with a Latin band, and hearing Soda Stereo’s previous records was enough for him to envision the group breaking big Stateside and, in time, globally. In addition to working with someone with such a background, which itself brought a good share of awe and excitement, Cerati, Bosio, and Alberti were intrigued to have someone else’s input when it came to their production. Besides their eponymous 1984 debut, in which the boards were maneuvered by Federico Moura (then-lead singer of New Wave greats Virus), all other Soda material had been self-produced. How challenging would it be to fit their own perfectionist work ethics (particularly in the lead singer’s case) to the methods employed by Alomar, a musician well-familiarized with big recording budgets and studios?

After preparing demos in Argentina, the three musicians, guest keyboardist Daniel Sais and longtime audio engineer Adrián Taverna, left Buenos Aires with New York City as their destination. Setting up shop at Sorcerer Sound Studios in downtown Manhattan, their new producer first approached them with an all-live action plan, going to great lengths to transpose the trio’s potent live sound to the recordings and keeping overdubs to a minimum. Carlos would also collaborate on the songs’ arrangements, adding guitar parts and backing vocals to thicken the finished product’s melodic and harmonious dynamics. With little to no changes to what had already been set on the demo recordings, work commenced in July 1988 and would last for little more than a month – a testament to the affinity between producer and musicians. 

It makes sense that Doble Vida would kick off with a song like “Picnic en el 4ºB”, which most instantly recalls the sound pursued by the band in their previous works. With arpeggiated guitar parts that would effortlessly fit on either 1985’s Nada Personal or 1986’s Signos, its shedding of a familiar light is pulled back on the next track, which would go on to become one of the biggest tunes in Soda’s (and Cerati’s) body of work. With a fair share of obscure six-string parts and atmospheric keys, “En la Ciudad de la Furia” conjures the urban environment of late-’80s Buenos Aires with such vivid accuracy that even those who’ve never set foot on Argentina’s biggest city might find themselves seamlessly enveloped by its majestic arrangement, augmented by a pulsating bassline and echoey drums. Just before the average listener gets fully comfortable with the experience, the heat is kicked up with the funky “(Lo Que Sangra) La Cupula”, with Alomar’s fast-paced rhythmic grooves spiraling up the track in a feverish, club-like manner. 

As timeless as most of the tracks on Doble Vida might be, its most dated moment also appears courtesy of Alomar himself, on the innovative-yet-less-rewarding “En El Borde”. Despite being noteworthy by featuring the first appearance of rap in an Argentinian album (although said rap part, the producer’s only lead vocal, is in English), the song might prove less entertaining with further listens. By comparison, the horns-embellished “Languis” is much better, which functions as a calling card for Doble Vida’s comparatively funkier sound while also showcasing Charly Alberti’s masterful drumming. The result is one of the best-regarded deep cuts in the group’s discography. “Languis” would later be re-recorded and featured as the title track for Soda Stereo’s first EP – but more on that in a moment.

The B-side of Doble Vida kicks things off with its (sort of) title track. “Dia Común-Doble Vida” is sax-heavy, which makes it the most distinct-sounding song on the record. On the other hand, the following song, “Corazón Delator” (co-written with the band’s friend and one-time second guitarist Richard Coleman), could have been found on any other album before or after this one. A dense ballad with more distinct time signatures and epic guitar lines, it would remain a staple of Soda Stereo’s live act through their demise in 1997 and would also be featured on most of their reunion tour ten years later.

The same cannot be said for the record’s two closing tracks – though that’s not a demerit. “El Ritmo de tus Ojos” and “Terapia de Amor Intensiva” represent polar extremes in the group’s instrumental dynamic, and, in particular, in the sound achieved on this record: whereas the former’s organ-based melodies and quick-strummed guitars place the song on a more “traditional” scope, the latter’s backward drum introduction and slower chord progressions make it one of the most distinct pieces of music featured on a Soda Stereo record. 

Preceded by the release of “En la Ciudad de La Furia” as the album’s first single, Doble Vida was originally released in September 1988 to enormous acclaim. The trio’s moves towards sophistication and big-time production did not go unnoticed, and the record’s simultaneous release on both CD and vinyl ensured it would become a commercial success aside from being critically applauded. The supporting tour, which began before the album’s proper release, also marked Soda Stereo’s first gigs in North America, with a much-promoted show at The Tunnel in New York City.

Following an MTV-backed release event, the group visited Mexico and Colombia before finally returning to Argentina for their first concert in over a year and a half. Their high-profile, sold-out show at Buenos Aires’ Obras Sanitarias was hailed as a grand comeback, with the members regarded as heroes and featuring an appearance by Alomar himself for a couple of songs, although their true coronation would happen before the year was over. In December, the group would be featured in the Cinco Años de Democracia festival, which celebrated the five years since the demise of Argentina’s military dictatorship and Argentina’s subsequent return to democracy. Playing alongside well-established acts such as Los Ratones Paranoicos, Fito Páez, and Luis Alberto Spinetta, Soda Stereo would solidify their reputation as the most popular band in their native land and garner the biggest praise in the event. Their upward march, however, was only beginning.

Doble Vida would be on tour less than two years after its official release. The year 1989 would see the production and release of the Languis EP, featuring a re-recorded version of the eponymous track and a new song, “Mundo de Quimeras”, that displayed a shift in the group’s lineup. Daniel Sais quit his position as supporting keyboardist, and his departure resulted in the addition of two new members – Fito Páez collaborator Tweety González took over Sais’ position, and Andrea Álvarez was brought into the fold as percussionist, further enhancing the rhythmic interplay made possible by the new tracks.

The tour would finally wrap up in January 1990 with a co-headlining stadium gig with Tears for Fears in the Argentinian capital. By then, with the two new members well adjusted to the live-act routine, the formula explored in Doble Vida had been exhausted. Cerati felt the big arrangements could be toned down or ditched altogether. The new songs he’d written and demoed would benefit from stripped-back, hard-rocking arrangements. In time, Soda Stereo’s following record would be their best-regarded and most iconic. However, none of that would have happened if Doble Vida hadn’t paved the way.

The group’s fourth album would be re-released in 2007 as part of their reunion campaign, in which their whole discography was remastered. In addition to that, both “En La Ciudad de La Furia” and “Terapia de Amor Intensiva” would be included in Soda Stereo’s MTV (Un)plugged performance, which was taped and released as Comfort Y Musica Para Volar in 1996 – the first one being the highlight on the concert thanks to a complete revamping that also featured a guest appearance of Aterciopelados’ frontwoman, Andrea Echeverri.

“En La Ciudad de La Furia” was also featured in El Último Concierto, the album documenting the group’s final tour in 1997. (The concert itself, which took place in Buenos Aires’ River Plate Stadium – approximately nine years after the release of Doble Vida – also included “Corazón Delator”, which ultimately did not appear on the record due to Gustavo’s dislike of the performance itself). Moreover, the song was also performed on several occasions by Cerati as a solo artist and even kept as a duet thanks to the vouching of his friend and collaborator, Shakira.

The Colombian singer, for her part, has repeatedly spoken of Gustavo and Soda Stereo’s importance in her life before and after the singer’s untimely death in 2014 after four years in a coma. Her devotion to the group and the iconic songs they made mirrors their impact in the past and present life stories of so many Latin Americans. Soda Stero’s legacy did not begin until, yet expanded greatly after the release of Doble Vida