It was inevitable. After a few years of staggering commercial success throughout Latin America, including Brazil and pockets of the United States, the teen pop group RBD unveiled an English-language crossover album, Rebels. The release had been planned for some time -- announced at a press conference, even! -- and in marketing-savvy fashion, it was preceded by a series of events intended to drum up anticipation. First there was a brief tour of the States in early 2006 that resulted in the CD/DVD Live in Hollywood. Then there was a high-profile concert at Madison Square Garden in July that was such an event it earned a snide notice in The New York Times by renowned music journalist Jon Pareles ("This is rebel music?" his article began). And then there was the run-up to the release of Rebels, which was preceded by lead single "Tu Amor," the group's English-language debut, and then by Celestial. That all-new Spanish-language album, released in late November, included a single of its own ("Ser o Parecer") and a bonus track sorpresa featuring samples of key songs from Rebels. It all amounted to a case study in how to go about breaking an international act in America, and as the album's Christmas release date rolled around, the only question remaining was whether Virgin Records would actually break RBD stateside. After all, as on-point as their roll-out campaign had been, marketing alone doesn't make for a successful album. And indeed, Rebels itself is a mixed bag.
"Tu Amor" is perfect for the project: the song is written by Diane Warren, who turns in a lyric that is bilingual yet elementary in its simplicity; the production is a modern urban beat with a hip-hop rhythm, courtesy of R&B veteran Khris Kellow; and the vocals are primarily handled by Cristian, the most fluent singer in the group, with the chorus sung in unison by the group -- it's a single tailor-made for Tr3s, MTV's brand-new channel targeting acculturated Latinos. "Wanna Play" and "Cariño Mio," both credited to behind-the-scenes urban music talent Andrea Martin, are likewise ideally suited for RBD's pending crossover: bilingual lyrics that are elementary enough for Spanish- as well as English-language teens; a light yet trendy reggaeton production style; and traded boy-girl vocals that accentuate the undercurrent of budding sexuality central to these bump-and-grind dance songs. Unfortunately, the remainder of the 11 songs are mildly disappointing. "Connected" is a promising song, as is the other Warren contribution, "I Wanna Be the Rain," yet the stilted English pronunciation and overly simple lyrics weigh too heavily on the songs. The same can be said of the numerous English-language versions of previously released RBD songs, which -- to be expected, perhaps -- account for roughly half of Rebels. "My Philosophy," "This Is Love," "Keep It Down Low," and "Save Me" were all first-rate singles -- originally titled "Dame," "Nuestro Amor," "Solo Quédate en Silencio," and "Sálvame," respectively -- among RBD's best to date, for sure. However, too much is lost in translation, not only in terms of lyrics but also performance.
When it's all said and done, the few standout new songs aren't enough to carry Rebels, at least for existing fans who already have RBD's Spanish-language albums (and who therefore have superior versions of half the album). Anyone hearing RBD for the first time will likely get more out of Rebels, since the re-recorded songs -- a couple of which are pretty good -- won't be redundant. Either way, Rebels isn't going to take over the English-speaking world the same way RBD's past albums overtook the Spanish-speaking world. The kids simply aren't convincing English-language singers, at least not at this point, and way too much of what made them so charming in the first place gets lost in translation here. For these reasons above all, it's best to stick with RBD's Spanish-language albums, even if you're a monolingual English speaker: the performances are better, the productions are consistent, and to be perfectly frank, sometimes the songs are more enjoyable if you don't understand the lyrics. ~ Jason Birchmeier