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Day 38: Mónica Naranjo – “4.0” (2014)
Genre: Pop / Rock / Electronica
Tracklist: Desátame (Intro) / Solo se vive una vez / Todo mentira / Entender el amor / Europa / Pantera en libertad / Usted / Kambalaya / Amor y lujo / Sobreviviré / Make you rock
6 years. That’s the time it took Mónica Naranjo to release any form of new music aside one sole single after her last album. Now, to celebrate the 40th birthday of this Queen of Spanish Pop, 4.0 was released. Supposedly a collection of “Electrorock reworkings” of some of her hits – the odd thing about that? 5 of the 10 reworked songs were Electrorock to begin with! Stemming from her fantastic Tarantula album, an album that – had it been released by a major English-speaking pop star, may just have had the power to revolutionize the mainstream Pop business. But I digress, let’s assess if 4.0 was worth the wait!
After a short, synth-heavy and Dark Ambient tinted introduction, we are treated to Desátame, originally a big dance hit in the late 90s. A vocal sample leads into a heavy, modern house beat – updating the song into the 21st century. The creative use of Dubstep sounds – employed slowly as background rather than as aggressive breakdown – works well, realizing a somewhat robotic, cold sound – befitting the thematic content of the track. Desátame remains a dance track first and foremost, with very little Rock elements present, and Mónica’s world-class belting is occasionally overshadowed by the heavy swooshes that fill the soundscape, however, it remains a successful facelift to a song that some may argue feels very much like a time capsule in its original form. Oddly enough, Mónica does not use the heavier Electrorock rearrangement of the song performed during her 2009 tour and subsequent live performances – which would have been quite a bit more powerful an opening still.
The lead single released for the album, Solo se vive una vez, is the rearrangement that strikes me as feeling the most organic out of the bunch. The beats, creeping up on you with a slow attack and quick release, effectively underline the urgency of the melody, the despair of the vocals. The song feels like it was made for the production, rather than the other way round – and it shines, it really does. Upon first hearing it a while back I wasn’t too fond of it, but it has grown on me in an incredibly short time, quickly becoming an album highlight.
Unfortunately, not every song can be as suitable for rearrangement. Todo mentira originally was a Punk-influenced Rock anthem, full of bursting anger, never holding back even for a moment. The new production seems to have forgotten that, attempting to recreate much of the original skeleton, but robbing it off its expressiveness in the process. It almost feels like a demo to the original mix, rather than a new version.
In its plain, old form, Entender el amor was by far the weakest of the songs to be found on this album, with a plastic arrangement heavily, heavily drenched in 90s kitsch. Thankfully, 4.0 fixes that, adding some heavy texture, some long-needed energy, giving the guitars and beats free reign. It’s what the song should have been all along. Yet even with the new finish, it remains an underwhelming song featuring a melody that is very, very easy to grow sick of – and a bridge that is just ridiculously overdrawn without adding anything of value.
When asked for a song that changed the way I looked at Pop music, I’m likely to respond Europa. An eclectic mix of Pop, Rock, Electronica and a hint of the macabre, opened by 3 minutes of piercing, operatic vocals over symphonic, vaguely ethnic, instrumentation. It’s an utter masterpiece. But the most shocking thing about Europa is that it managed to climb to the #1 position in Spain, restoring my faith in the Pop music buying audience. It was a song clad both in the finest velvets and a shining, heavy armor, yet with immense fragility and undying conviction underneath. The version included on 4.0? Stripped down to nothing and then clad in used paper tissues. Individually, I would have probably enjoyed this version. It’s in absolutely no way a bad song. Just messy and lifeless. It can never even come close to reaching the grandeur and perfection of the original recording, not even for a moment touching that level of quality.
Another timeless classic, Pantera en libertad introduced me to Mónica years ago. It’s a feminist anthem that, unlike most others, isn’t unbearable at all, instead pushing forward continuously to reach a ridiculously fun climax. The new recording is pretty decent, not quite as fun, adding some weight to the production instead, but for the biggest part retaining the fierceness of the song. I don’t regret listening to it, but I will continue recommending the original mix.
I can’t make up my mind about Usted. On the one hand, it beautifully evokes the album cover, feeling very much like a deserted playground or theme park, like a place that was once great but has since lost all hope. On the other hand, it completely lost the conflict of naivete and stark realism, of the childlike and the adult, the hope and the despair – that made Usted so wonderful and deeply affecting. The only remainder is the extreme change of timbre Mónica undergoes before the chorus, now feeling odd and out of place rather than absolutely genius. The 4.0 mix of Usted essentially reduces a masterpiece to a good, fun rock track. Still atmospheric, still powerful – not as powerful or expressive as it used to be.
Kambalaya stays close to what the song has always been, rough yet glamorous, with a melody that comes out of the blue, takes you by surprise and envelops you. While the arrangement itself underwent many changes, the song feels almost exactly the same it used to, making the whole rerecording feel a bit unnecessary. Some of the elements add a little dynamics, some dramatic tension – yet I’m not sure the song needed them, it feels a bit overly dramatic now.
I expect something absolutely nuts from Amor y lujo, never having really recorded from first contact with the music video. Amor y lujo is crazy, flamboyant, colourful – the 4.0 version is a lot more restrained, forcing the song into more of a basic rock template. As with most of the other songs on this record, it still works, but is most certainly a downgrade. The instant cult hit factor that was all over the song is all but gone. That delicious hint of Eurodisco – discarded.
A good rerecording captures the essence of the song and presents it differently, either with the same intention or while adding a layer of meaning. Sobreviviré manages to grasp what the song is all about, the display of power and pure conviction, the will to continue on, coming from deep within and slowly overpowering you, oozing out. More and more. It adds a sense of the ethereal to the quieter sections, ups the intensity of the guitars. One brief shout was added to the vocals that I find slightly odd in the production, but aside from that minor elements Sobreviviré understands what it’s trying to accomplish and effortlessly reaches its goal, creating a new version of equal merit to her legendary signature song(which itself is a cover of an equally legendary Mina song).
To finish off the album, we get the 2012-released Make You Rock, a song never included in an album. It’s no new version, understandably since the song was essentially exactly the style we find on 4.0. It’s a massive stadium rock anthem with enough pop aesthetics to go far on the market. It’s a bit odd to find a song entirely on English at the end of a Spanish album, but I’m not complaining. Make You Rock is the quintessential Mónica track, showing off her mix of Pop, Rock and Electronica as well as her impressive pipes. It’s not her best song, it doesn’t go for artistic achievements – it’s just fun.
4.0 is an underwhelming album. Underwhelming because most of the songs are worse than their original versions. Underwhelming because 6 years of hype have led up to it. Underwhelming because I know that Mónica can do so, so much better. Without the baggage of knowing all the original songs, I would have probably loved this album. Even the worst songs are still well-produced and insanely catchy, performed with the vocal intensity that only one of the most skilled vocalists in Pop music right now can bring to the table. Subjectively, from the perspective of a fan, anything less than utterly fantastic from Mónica is a disappointment. Objectively, this is one hell of a self-cover album – but anyone new to Mónica would be better advised with her 2008 effort. And as a fan, I shall be waiting for her actual new studio album, 6 years in the making, 5 years announced now – and still without a release date.