A border girl won't get very far el norte by emulating Mariah Carey. Fortunately, Paulina "Golden Girl" Rubio mostly understands this and checks herself accordingly. Her first English-language album, Border Girl, follows Cher and Kylie in style, and suffers only one Mariah moment -- the yawning vocals, bland beats and pandering rap of "Stereo." Rubio aims to please as wide an audience as possible on Border Girl, hedging her bets as a Latin pop star seeking followers in English. In the liner notes she calls the album her "Miss Cocktail of dance, chill out, ambient, mex-hop, trip-hop, hip-hop, drum & bass jungle...," as if a cocktail that convoluted would be any good. Border Girl is quite a cocktail, but you don't really hear all of these ingredients.
Instead, what you hear is sonic bubble gum as Rubio sings open-mouthed as if in between chews. She has a good voice, and this is actually quite a tasty confection if you can focus on it. No song lasts longer than "I'll Be Right Here (Sexual Lover)," whose two-year-old Spanish original is still ubiquitous on Latin radio and at nightclubs south of the border. Then there's the sing-along "The Last Goodbye," with its mariachi melody and her angry delivery. You don't feel her anger in English as much as you did in the Spanish original, though, which is unfortunate. And if only she had given us more of the true house sound of "Fire (Sexy Dance)," mixed here by the one and only Hex Hector.
Rubio has many gay Latino fans, and she's asserted that "Border Girl" could become a gay anthem. But that's quite a stretch, not least because the lyrics don't really make enough sense to be anybody's anthem. Not even hers: She's not the U.S.-Mexican Border Girl she claims, having been raised in Mexico City by her popular, Mexican actress mother while performing in a co-ed, Mexican version of Menudo.
Marc Anthony, owner of perhaps the greatest male voice in all of pop music, is known as the reigning King of Salsa, the popular Latin-style of dance music that originated in New York of Caribbean descent, as with Anthony himself. If only he'd stick to it -- his two English albums to date have featured very little salsa, and they are far inferior to any of the Spanish salsa albums he's produced over the years. In English, on Mended, Anthony whines his way through sad love songs that never make the shift halfway through from slow-jam to up-tempo revelry that's a staple in the best of his salsa songs. On "Everything You Do" he seems to consider making the shift, as the bridge introduces us to salsa's standard five-beat clave rhythm.
But here we're dealing with off-brand salsa, so instead the song becomes a mild but incredibly thick version of an ‘80s heavy-metal ballad. Does Anthony think his English listeners can't handle the spice of real salsa? That we'd rather gag on Diane Warren's style of clichéd love syrup? At least there are some shining examples of Latin-inflected pop: "I Got You," "I Swear," and "Give Me a Reason," where hip-hop meets Latin pop in seamless fashion, and Anthony's supple voice complements the jerky staccato beat, even overshadowing it in sheer forcefulness. "I should have worked a little harder just to show you love," he sings -- if only he always worked this hard and sounded this great.