Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Gloria Estefan Gets Her "Miss Little Havana" On

When we last left Gloria Estefan she was getting her Spanish fly on (again) with 90 Millas (2007). After 27 years in the glow of success, Estefan had the least to prove. So when news began to circulate of Estefan prepping a new album, one geared toward four-on-the-floor hijinks, it raised eyebrows. No one could argue with Estefan's dance floor clout, but she hadn't made an active recording based in dance since 1998's gloria! Following that iconic album wouldn't be an easy feat.

Fans worried Estefan might have a bout of uncharacteristic insecurity and try to acclimatize herself to less-than sonics. Their fears were confirmed when Pharrell Williams was announced as the producer of the project. A member of the groundbreaking hip-hop outfit N*E*R*D, he doubled as an artist and producer on his own. Williams' work in the last few years eyed the commercial rather than the creative. Major production failures on Madonna's Hard Candy (2008) and Shakira's She Wolf (2009) didn't assist in assuaging the fear Estefan's faithful had.

No one guessed that Estefan and Williams could find muses in each other. The creation of Miss Little Havana has managed to be a career best for both parties. Mirroring the aforesaid gloria! in motif and tone, Miss Little Havana positions itself to restructure Estefan's dance music. Where gloria! was overflowing and sumptuous, Havana stays lean and urgent during its playing time.

Pharrell's instinctual knowledge of that "in the pocket" moment of a song paired well with Estefan's keen Latin instrumentation. Unlike his chrome clattering works prior, Pharrell allowed Estefan to substitute her musical flora along his productions. Estefan's traditionalism tied to Pharrell's modernity translated to Havana being the veritable "lightning in the bottle" proceeding.

The title track, a lyrical ode to the perilous journey of youth, is smart. Smart in that it employs elements of retro likability in its smidgen of Shannon's "Let the Music Play" cowbell and a "breakin' beat" right out of '84. The various tints and shades of the music alternate between vintage disco relaxation ("I Can't Believe") and current cool ("Heat"). "Wepa," the lead single and current reigning U.S. dance chart hit as of this review, is a hyperactive distillation of Estefan's spice and sting ethos. Almost too heady at its breakneck B.P.M. pace, the listener will determine their own affinity to the cut. "Say Ay" a sticky, Spanglish lip smacker and the "it melts in your mouth, not in your hand" smoothness of "Right Away" are fantastic.

One is hard pressed not to cheer Estefan on for the effortlessness in which she delivers the goods as the record plays. Stumbles are few. Her usually endearing ballad falls prey to lack of lyrical presence on "Time is Ticking." The "Wepa" remix with Pitbull is redundant, as the song is so high energy on its own it requires no further reworking. A cover of "Let's Get Loud," made famous by fellow Blend favorite Jennifer Lopez, is lackluster. It was written by Estefan and longtime collaborator Pablos Flores, a possible outtake from the gloria! era. Estefan gave it to Lopez who made it a staple for herself. Regardless, the song is flat no matter who sings it.

Directed By: Ray Kay

Miss Little Havana parallels gloria!, complimenting it rather than surpassing it. The unlikely match of Pharrell and Estefan crafted a work that is authentically her own, but flashy enough to get those unaware of that Estefan magic curious. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH

[Editor's Note: The Miss Little Havana album is a Target only exclusive, available through their stores physically. Digitally it is available on iTunes. For current news on Gloria Estefan, visit her official site.-QH]


Diva Incarnate said...

Love the intro, with the getting her Spanish fly on, effortless turn of phrase. I got here yesterday but had to delay reading it as I knew you'd pretty much detail what I'd want to say or soon want to. It's either just a solid album, or a very special one if willing to give it the attention it really deserves. There's a few that I;m holding on tight to: title track, I Can't Believe, Hotel and Medicine have the most pulling power for me. I Can't Believe is the one that's moving me, and it's all Pharrel's lyric is that correct? I interpreted it pretty deeply as Gloria moving on from things that may have been brewing in her marriage, and finding that spark again. Another fantastic article - I hope you go through more of her catalogue actually:)
P.S, I've put up my own review. It will be my last this month, I need to get to work at uni I think (I'll still read blogs of course).

QH said...

I plan to, her stuff is pretty amazing. I own it all. ICB is really nice. "Heat" is just dope and "Wepa" really rocks within the context of the album, love the video. Thanks again for all the support. Oh, I've picked up more Cher stuff, lol.-Q

Diva Incarnate said...

Nice! Which ones?

QH said...

I got "I Paralyze," and "the snake album" or the U.S. edition of "It's a Man World." I want a U.K. copy too, I like the U.S. version though.-Q

Diva Incarnate said...

That's almost controversial - glad you got both to decide though. I could actually familiarize myself with the rnb versions a bit more I guess.

Moanerplicity said...

I like when she turns up the Salsa heat or goes back to her (Latin) roots. It seems far more legit than say... umm... a J-Lo move (J-Lo doesn't even SPEAK espanol!). With Gloria, you know that she's clearly proud of her Cuban heritage & I respect the fact that she doesn't simply do a drive-by or genre-switching thing whenever she wants a new hit.

You never have to wonder WHAT she is, because musically, she's never completely left her roots by the waste side.

& oh yeah: this new cd kicks mad AZZ... from what I've heard of it.


Nice piece, Quentin. Very didactic.


un_taco said...

I need to get this album! Thanks for the post!

Soulafrodisiac said...

Hello there stranger!

This album has been in my cue to listen to for awhile now. By the sounds and remarks I've been told, I better get to it sooner than later.

Great post, as always. Hope you're well! xoxo