Enrique Iglesias has been away for quite some time, for the pop world anyway – his last record Euphoria was released to wild success back in 2010. He’s dropped a smattering of singles since then, as far back as 2011, but nothing of substance, just a spray of teasey, tantalising cutlets that fizzled out… or so we thought.
In reality, they were leading to Iglesias’ 10th studio record, Sex+Love. Or perhaps those lonely floater-paeans have just been smooshed/shoehorned into the record, but who knows. Crunch time: does the culmination of four years’ hard graft pay off? Has this bloated gestation period been a hindrance or a boon?
One of the first things you’ll notice about the record is the sheer volume of guest spots (10, or 11 if you include producers Swedish House Mafia). Only four of the 15 tracks are purely Iglesias; it’s a very collaborative record, so for you die-hard EI purists, look away now. This often points to a label’s interference, either a lack of trust in the LP’s success, or as a way of promoting other artists. There’s a good chance this isn’t the case, but when you see so many efforts caveated with ‘feat. blahblahblah’, it’s difficult to perceive this as a good thing.
With this kind of scenario, the record can feel controlled by the guests – like Disclosure‘s Settle – and its ensuing success/lack thereof is ultimately down to them rather than the headline act. Now, where Iglesias has a voice all by himself, unlike Disclosure, this tends not to be the case, but it does come across a mixture of anxiety, disbelief, laziness and apathy that he’s not selling the music by himself. At the outset, it’s worrying indeed.
Let’s get one thing straight first: it’s very nice pop. You can imagine countless freshers glugging blue VKs and Jägerbombs whilst cuttin’ shapes on sticky dancefloors. Dads will boogie, sozzled aunts will embarrass and karaoke-fiends will croon wistfully to the ballads. It’s nice; the kind of pop with broad appeal, spit-shined like marble statues and buffed to be baby-proof. There are no jagged corners here. It’ll stay in the charts and sell countless units, and many will forge memories of lust and intoxication to these beats; lots of ditties have the potential to be this year’s Boom Boom Pow, Bonkers or Moves Like Jagger.
However, with this mass appeal comes weaknesses. It’s insincere, vacuous and, in all honesty, Iglesias sounds like he’s betraying his very core. At best, he sounds like he’s going through the motions, at worst, he’s crumbling inside, slowly realising he’s sold his soul. “Oh yeah, I like how it feels!” he howls on, no surprises, I Like How It Feels. No he bloody doesn’t.
I’m A Freak is giddy Wreck-It Ralph-ian J-Pop adrenaline, jangling guitars and scorned dubstep punctuates Heart Attack, intense drops and Cascada-style beats feature on Physical. The tracks with Pitbull on are by-the-numbers rap-pop choons, but pleasantly inoffensive nonetheless. There’s definitely a time and a place for the majority of sounds on Sex+Love, and that’s in somewhere bulging with bodycon, Ralphies and slick bouffants. Preferably studded with the denizens of TOWIE.
It’s fabulous at what it does; no one can deny his marketability and almost universal adoration are big lures for clubs and parties. At the outset of the album, he acknowledges these elements: “It’s all-encompassing. When you turn on the radio, what are the themes that everybody relates to? We all relate to sex and love. That’s why when you hear music – 90% of the time – it derives from those two feelings.”
Iglesias has made a record that gets by with a lot of help from his friends, but it does get by. It’s unfathomably successful in terms of his goals. The weaker moments exist when he veers into seriousness, as on the schmaltzapalooza El Perdedor or simpering ’80s vocoder-slowie Beautiful featuring Kylie Minogue. On the pumpier tracks, the ones with oodles of energy and plastic hooks, his phoned-in-ness is harder to glean, masked by Pitbull or drum machines, but on the auto-tuned ballads, it’s cringeworthy. Yet while there are no big Hero moments here, Iglesias, whether he likes it or not, will remain a mammoth icon, a discotheque filler and the world’s most famous Latin-pop star. But it’ll be despite Sex+Love, rather than because of it.