If there’s any logic to the music business, Raquel Sofía is on her way to becoming a star. She has the talent, the voice, the look, the presence, everything a woman needs to fill up arenas and get endless play on commercial radio. She’s not there yet, though, and if her new batch of songs is any indication she still has a little further to go. The problem seems to be her inability to settle on a coherent sound and persona. Once she does, watch out!
She wasn’t a teenage phenom like Shakira, not at all a sure thing when she decided, at twenty-seven, to stop touring behind the Colombian superstar, and other big names, like Juanes and strike out on her own. Her early music, which eventually was collected in her 2015 debut album “Te Quiero los Domingos” (“I Love You on Sundays”), is tentative, firmly inside the boundaries of Latin pop, but a little too all over the place. The title song is bouncy, driven by a pared down guitar/drums sound, “Agridulce” (“Sweet and Sour”) is a melodramatic love ballad, “Hombres Como Tú” (“Men Like You”) a stab at a punk-rock anthem. Sofia seemed to be trying to be too many things at once, it was as if she was throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck.
In truth, most of the tracks on that first album are derivative and by-the-numbers, both musically and lyrically. There are some hints of cleverness in the language – in “La Ecuación” (“The Equation”) she defines love as “you plus me,” and in “Sí” (“Yes”) she envisions a long term relationship culminating in “wrinkled love”-– but not nearly enough to rival Shakira’s early work. And there are also some hints at rebellious raunchiness –- “I gave you a whole garden/ for you to empty your hose” she moans in “Te Amo Idiota” (“I Love You, You Idiot”), which are too timid and careful to make a deep impact.
Like many Millenial songstresses, she focuses mostly on imperfect love between imperfect people, with little that makes her own take on the subject stand out.
The music she’s released since then has expanded on the uncertain eclecticism of “Te Quiero los Domingos.” “No Me Queda Más” (“There’s Nothing Left for Me”) is a faux-Mexican tune that overdoes the electronic effects, “Qué Precio Tiene el Cielo” (“What’s the Price of the Sky”) is supposed to sound tropical and danceable, while “Con Tu Nombre” (“With Your Name”) is meant to be a sultry bolero. None of them commit fully to the styles and genres from which they borrow. All end up sounding bland and forgettable.
Her newest songs are more polished and, thankfully, more focused on letting her outstanding voice shine through, but the constant shifts in tone and style remain dizzying. “Ron de Azucar” (“Sugar Rum”) is a Caribbean-infused dance number, while “Mi Sonrisa Vertical” (“Mi Vertical Smile”) and “La Persona que No Eres” (“The Person that You Aren’t”) are pop ballads, one happy and the other bluesy. The impudent raunch is mostly gone, as is the cleverness in the lyrics (I do like the lines “my neon heart/ a lost lamp/ plugged in to its own fantasy” from “The Person that You Aren’t”). Sofía has also changed her look, from the punk-inspired, badass persona of the first album, to a milder, fancier getup, complete with elaborate curled coif and tons of makeup.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course. There’s nothing wrong with exploring different styles and genres of music, or dressing up or down depending on how you feel or what you want to project. The problem is when the constant change gives the impression that there’s no core beneath it all, no there there. I don’t believe that’s true. I think there’s a strong core of passion and vision inside Raquel Sofía. She just hasn’t found the best way to let it out.