Vida has been a long time coming. Luis Fonsi's ninth studio album is also his first in five years. What's more, it follows the release of his global record-breaking chart topper "Despacito (feat. Daddy Yankee) by two years. That's an eternity between hit and album, but Fonsi's hardly been idle. Two other high-climbing collaborative tracks were issued in the interim -- "Imposible" (featuring the silky-smooth voice of Ozuna) and "Calypso" (feat. East London's Stefflon Don). Both of these are included on Vida, as is the Justin Bieber remix of "Despacito." While some might find this marketing overkill, the inclusion of these hits adds depth to this ambitious, yet balanced offering.
Album-opener and current single "Sola" (Spanish and Anglo versions bookend the set) underscores Fonsi's long-established reputation as one of the finest ballad singers that pop of any stripe has to offer. Its midtempo groove underscores the passion and pathos in the lyric, which he delivers with requisite commitment. It reminds us why, for the past decade, Fonsi has been such a Latin pop pioneer, he injects his version of the age-old tradition of cortavena (pathologically emotional songs) with dance, pop, bachata, reggaeton, vallenato, cumbia, and even rock & roll. Other power ballads on the set include the soaring "Le Pido al Cielo," the nearly processional "Dime Que No Te Iras," and "Ahi Estas Tu," with its layered acoustic guitars and sweeping strings that bind together romantico, Latin, and Anglo pop. The set's biggest surprise, however, is a duet with Demi Lovato on the bilingual vallenato/pop cumbia fusion "Exchame la Culpa" (Put the Blame on Me). Lovato invests the song with an uncharacteristic abandonment of empathy for searing emotion while simultaneously making room for the playful weave of rhythms and melody. Fonsi underscores every line with his own culpability and resolve, his phrasing trailing the backbeat for emphasis. Another highlight is "Tanto Para Nada," a tune that commences as a dramatic, polished ballad but unleashes cumbia and reggaeton in the chorus before skittering synthetic drum'n'bass breaks claim the bridge and outro. "Mas Fuerte Que Yo" finds Fonsi at his most dramatic, infusing a power ballad with reggaeton beats, slithering electric guitars, swelling strings and fat bass drums as he climbs above the heavily atmospheric mix to communicate the brokenness and devastation in the lyric. Remixes of "Calypso" and "Despacito" follow before the Anglo read of "Sola" closes the set. Vida displays all of Fonsi's gifts as a singer and songwriter. It's an impeccably sequenced collection that allows the wealth of conflicting emotions in these songs free rein amid catchy melodies and resonant dynamics, all carried by infectious beats. ~ Thom Jurek