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Elvis Crespo rocks; second thoughts on new Dylan; Eminem makes it three in a row; the folks are jittery

In 1999 I was at a Labor Day Puerto Rican Music festival produced by Ralph Mercado -this is an all night long coming together of Salsa and Merengue royalty -I’ve seen Celia Cruz here, Tito Puente, this is the cream of Latin Dance.

And this night it was a coming out party for Elvis Crespo -his second album “Pintame” had just been released and, not unlike a Puerto Rican Justin Timberlake, he was shaking up Merengue. Dressed in white tee and tight white jeans, long wavy black hair, he rolled out his “Suavante” (first album and smasherino title song) hits and sparkling new dance numbers. Crespo came across like three kinda rock stars, dashing across the stage, throwing scarves to screaming girls, he might have been Mick Jagger, he might have been an earlier Elvis.

Elvis had begun his career with Grupo Mania -an excellent PR boy band. Grupo Mania were pretty kids there to make the girls hearts go pitter patter and that’s fine but they were also a great dance band and well worth taking seriously (the “Dance Mania” album is recommended). He left for a solo career.

I loved “Pintame” (“Beso de Coral” might have been the best song of 99) and despite the language problem expected him to continue on the success of “Suavante” Stateside. I expected (and Sony expected) Crespo to be a second Ricky Martin.

Indeed, he was more purely gifted, less sexually ambivalent, and just plain more fun than Ricky and it simply didn’t happen. So they tried again, with a poppier confection, “Wow Flash,” even did a version of the title track in English. Whoops: “Oh my sweet love, you’ll always be my love, wow flash.” Sounds a lot better in Spanish.

Anyway, the album stiffed Stateside and by the next they had given up trying to make him a star here and left him huge in Latin America. Last thing I had was he was touring with Grupo Mania.

Left me wondering what the problem was. Surely reggae (not to mention Reggeaton) rhythms are far more fractured to American ears? It might be a question of not understanding the language but after hearing the translation into English, um, maybe not. Incipient racism? Again, I don’t think so. Perhaps its very popiness makes Merengue uncool to, say, a college audience.

Whatever the reason, Crespo’s story is the story of a sound unable to follow Martin. Indeed, Martin himself couldn’t follow Martin.

We all have our blindside. Me? I can’t bear power ballads… whether Phil Collins or Celine Dion or Journey, I hide at the sight of them. I am less blinded to the pleasures of the blues and yet there is a sameyness to these unwashed ears that doesn’t entirely thrill me. The blues is a genre, and all caveats notwithstanding, that reached its apotheosis with the Chess folks. So the consistent blues shuffles on Dylan’s new album (far more songs than his last four albums) doesn’t quite do it. “If You Ever go To Houston” is mighty fine, however. And I hope I’m not dead before I get to hear the just too perfect version of “Forgetful Heart” on some 8 track somewhere.

Finally, “3am” is the third song off the new Eminem album and it is the real deal. Neither the pop confection of “Crack the Bottle’ nor the sophomoric fun of “We Made You,” “3am” is a jittery that, if not lyrically certainly musically, a paranoid shock to the system; Eminem as a murderer who can’t remember what he did or why: it is bloody and if played differently, if played for laughs, might be laughable. Instead it is pitch black.

And the more I listen to music this year the more it seems to reflect back on these strange and scary times: all the beats feel broken, all the easy pop seems forced, all the hard rock is on the verge of falling apart. 2008 feels like a different age, 2009 is the real start of the 21st Century.

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