The more Julieta Venegas sells out, the better she gets. After earning oodles of alterna-cred for for a pair of moody albums loaded with her offbeat, Tom Waits-ian accordion runs, she settled into a pure-pop groove for 2003’s Sí and became the huge star she’d deserved to be for nearly a decade. The Tijuana native didn’t fully discard her darker thoughts on Sí, she simply camouflaged them behind squiggly synths and bouncy beats, best captured on the irresistible hit single “Algo Esta Cambiando.”
Limón y Sal sticks with its predecessor’s formula, albeit with a few adventurous touches, such as the reggaeton free-for-all “Primer Dia” and the dancehall pastiche “Eres Para Mi.” More than ever, Venegas’s voice sounds like the perfect pop instrument, girlishly sweet but always underpinned by a subtle, melancholy rasp. Her voice uncannily recalls ’80s German pop pinup Nena (Remember “99 Luft Balloons”?), and her songs often feel like every appealing sonic element of the early MTV era rolled into a single, glossy package.
Both the title song and the album-opening “Canciones de Amor” add a loping, faux-country feel to Venegas’s palette, while “A Donde Sea” opts for propulsive, new-wave euphoria that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Go-Go’s’ Beauty and the Beat.
Possibly in response to her new role as a Latin-pop video star, Venegas begins the album on a cautionary note, offering a hint of cynicism to go with the sing-along jangle she effortlessly creates. Insisting that she’s tired of love songs because they always promise unattainable happy endings, Venegas reminds you that she’s a mature, classically trained artiste, not a bubbly teen idol. But her voice always argues otherwise, and we’re all the better for it.
- Gilbert Garcia