In early 1991, the career of Mexican singer Luis Miguel was at its peak. His seventh studio album, “20 Años” (“20 Years”), released the previous year, was a record breaking success. It solidified Luis Miguel’s status as a household name across Latin America and, increasingly, the United States. Its biggest hits “Entrégate” (“Give Yourself Up”), “Tengo Todo Excepto a Tí” (“I Have Everything Buy You”), and a Spanish-language cover of the Jackson 5’s “Blame It on the Boogie,” all topped the Latin billboard charts and remain popular to this day. Always the hard worker, Luis Miguel was eager to begin recording the follow-up. Unfortunately, Juan Carlos Calderón, the songwriter behind many of Luis Miguel’s hits to date, didn’t have an album’s worth of material ready.
Faced with a contractually imposed deadline, the singer and his team decided to record an album of covers, reinterpreted by Luis Miguel. They settled on the bolero genre as a great fit for Luis Miguel’s image as a romantic heartthrob and an ideal canvas for showing off the range of his legendary voice. With the help of singer/songwriter/producer Armando Manzanero, one of the true icons of Mexican music, they handpicked twelve canonical boleros ranging from standards of the 1940s and 1950s to Manzanero’s own “No Sé Tú” (“I Don’t Know about You”), first released in 1986.
It was a gamble, and it paid off with interest. “Romance,” the resulting album, was released in November 1991 and became another smashing success for Luis Miguel, with two songs once again reaching the top of the Billboard Latin charts – “No Sé Tú” and a powerhouse rendition of the classic “Inolvidable” (“Unforgettable”) by Julio Gutiérrez – and endless radio play. The record was not only devoured by fans but also lauded by critics, who credited it for reviving interest in a musical form long derided as too tame and old school for modern audiences.
The reception was so overwhelmingly positive that Luis Miguel made bolero covers an integral part of his musical career. To date he has recorded three follow-up albums: “Segundo Romance” (“Second Romance”) in 1994, “Romances” in 1997, and “Mis Romances” (“My Romances”) in 2001. Each found an eager audience and respect from the music world, even if with each new installment there were grumblings that the artist was resting on his laurels.
It’s not difficult to see why. Luis Miguel and his producers appropriated each bolero and polished it to a high sheen, approaching the genre’s melodramatic excesses with the earnest sincerity beloved by the more conservative segments of Latin American society. There are few winks at the audience, shows of self-awareness or, God forbid, the merest hint of self-parody.
What exists is a collection of anthems to love, requited or unfulfilled, won or lost, wished for or remembered, performed by a master of his craft at the height of his powers.
Unfortunately, fate has not been as kind to Luis Miguel lately. The singer has been embroiled in public feuds with former colleagues, including Manzanero, and is a fixture on the Mexican tabloids for his eccentric persona and his eventful personal life.
Perhaps on occasion he looks back at the glory days and remembers the melancholic words of “El Reloj” (“The Clock”), one of the greatest boleros of all time, which he so beautifully made his own twenty years ago: “Stop your march, clock, for my life is dimming […] I am nothing without love.”