Released at the close of the 21st Century, Enrique Iglesias’s self-titled crossover smash, and his first full foray into the English-language market, signalled more than just the start of the Latin superstar’s international career. In many ways, Enrique marks one of the glorious closing chapters of the CD era, with the digital revolution looming just a little further ahead. Shifting millions of copies worldwide, and created with the cream of late 90s production and songwriting talent, it’s one of the final releases from a golden age.
The creative lure of a crossover
Masterminded by industry legend Jimmy Iovine, who seized on the singer’s growing success in Latin America and was already mindful of the impact of artists like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez, Enrique was actually the Latin heartthrob’s fourth studio album. The son of superstar Julio, he had first kept his interest in developing his music hidden from his father, before releasing his first collection on a Latin label in 1995. Enrique Iglesias was an immediate hit and earned the singer a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Performance.
Two further releases cemented his superstar status in those markets, but the creative lure of a crossover career was strong, and Enrique’s contribution to the Will Smith movie Wild Wild West, which also featured songs by acts like Eminem and Faith Evans, became a surprise smash.
‘Bailamos’ (‘We Dance’) was a radio hit in the US, topping the country’s charts. It had been written by Paul Barry and Mark Taylor, who had just enjoyed the biggest hit of the year with Cher’s ‘Believe’ – a classic track that had swept the world the previous winter. ‘Believe’’s producer, Brian Rawling, was also recruited to recreate his magic on the Enrique single, which, with that sort of pop pedigree, was almost certain to succeed. But Enrique’s father hadn’t had a major hit in years and there was little obvious fanbase for another Iglesias (Enrique’s brother Julio Junior had released an English-language collection to almost no interest the same year).
The perfect pop package
Instead, the hit fanned the flames of a fierce bidding war between record labels desperate to sign the fledgling star, but it was Jimmy Iovine’s intuitive understanding of how to develop the singer that sealed the deal. Pulling in the services of Madonna’s longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard and superstar songwriter Diane Warren, and securing more tracks from Paul Barry and Mark Taylor, what emerged, on 23 November 1999, was the perfect pop package.
Across just ten tracks, with the obligatory trio of Spanish-language versions added to the set, Enrique wasn’t an immediate smash, entering the Billboard charts outside the Top 30, but sales steadily built across the following weeks thanks to a consistent succession of strong singles that assured the album’s profile. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.
The Paul Barry and Mark Taylor composition ‘Rhythm Divine’, revisiting the melodic pop-dance formula of ‘Bailamos’, wasn’t the hit people expected, peaking at No.32 in the US and missing the UK Top 40 altogether. Despite strong reviews and the first in a series of music videos that played up to Enrique’s swarthy sex appeal, ‘Rhythm Divine’’s failure must have been a heart-in-the-mouth moment: so much rested on breaking out from the Latin markets, which nevertheless remained as loyal as ever (the single topped charts in Spanish-speaking territories).
Brimming with sexual tension
A third Barry-Taylor song (with a credit for Enrique as well) got things back on track when ‘Be With You’ scaled the Billboard chart in June 2000. This time, its light pop-house production earned the attention of the Grammy Awards committee, picking up a nomination for Best Dance Recording. Perhaps the pop highlight on Enrique’s self-titled album, it was inexplicably passed over for single release in the UK market, despite strong chart showings elsewhere in Europe.
Apart from ‘Bailamos’, the best-remembered cut from Enrique in the UK is the hit duet he made with the late Whitney Houston. The pair recorded the Diane Warren composition ‘Could I Have This Kiss Forever?’ in separate continents (they didn’t meet until it was recut for single release and there was the inevitable matter of the obligatory video-shoot), but the midtempo shuffler brimmed with sexual tension and remains radio staple to this day. Melodic-pop maestro David Foster produced the original album version, but Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling reworked it in a jittery pop-dance format for its single release.
Enrique’s love of Bruce Springsteen is well documented and his cover of ‘Sad Eyes’, a 1990 release from the rock legend, was shaped around a light Latin-pop beat helmed by Lester Mendez. An infamous video recorded with artist David LaChapelle ramped the star’s sex appeal up to a red-heat pitch… too hot, in fact, for the record label and TV stations. The clip was shelved and remains officially unreleased to this day. With minimal promotion, ‘Sad Eyes’ failed to make much of an impact but, by this stage, Enrique was focused on the recording of his second English-language collection, Escape, which would see release the following year, in the shadow of 9/11, and which contains the anthem ‘Hero’.
A catalogue of hits that speak to the world
With so many strong singles, it’s easy to overlook the other cuts on Enrique Iglesias’ self-titled album. Part-written by hitmaker Rick Nowells, the ballad ‘I Have Always Loved You’ is easily strong enough to have been selected as a single and the track, and, is perhaps Enrique’s highlight. ‘I’m Your Man’ (not a cover of the Wham! hit) may have been produced by Patrick Leonard, but follows the formula laid down by Brian Rawling. Patrick knew how to follow the brief: make a surefire hit.
Some of the album’s dance-oriented production is perhaps of its time, but this is accessible, sharp contemporary pop when expensive studio time and the cream of the industry’s writing and technical talent could be assembled around a simple belief: Jimmy Iovine’s vision that an emerging Latin artist could build a catalogue of hits that would speak to the world. The gamble paid off with Enrique and, across so many releases since, continues to do so.
Enrique Iglesias’ self-titled album can be bought here.