“Play” is a rare misstep for Aterciopelados

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The Colombian band Aterciopelados has cultivated a devoted following with their infectious, whimsical style of music infused with a knowing sense of humor. When all of those elements are working, as in the outstanding “He Venido a Pedirte Perdón” (“I’ve Come To Say I’m Sorry”) from last November, few pop-rock acts working in Spanish today can match them.

Which is why it’s so frustrating when they can’t quite put it together. Their newest single “Play” features a lively rhythm and a feel-good message, along with a bit cameo by Chilean hip-hop sensation Ana Tijoux. It doesn’t try to be momentous, or political, or groundbreaking, just a catchy, danceable tune with a mellow groove. “Let’s play,” it beckons, in both Spanish and English, “don’t get stressed.”

Evidently band leaders Andrea Echeverri and Héctor Butrago were looking to be deliberately simple and sweet, both musically and lyrically, to fly free of the mordant undercurrent of some of their work. In “Play” they combine a simple melody and straightforward vocals with cleverly inserted electronic effects – –  here a reverberating breeze, there a beckoning pssst  – – and unrelentingly uplifting verses – – “say yes to the good energy,” “I just want you to have fun,” “never lose your flow.”

No doubt “Play” will be enjoyed and savored “like an apricot” by Aterciopelados’ many fans. But there’s a by-the-numbers quality to the whole exercise that is very unlike what listeners get  from most of the band’s previous work. The problem perhaps is that it’s hard to let loose and get carried away by a song that is repeatedly instructing you to let loose and get carried away.

This is particularly notable when Tijoux comes onstage to join one and all to compose “a simple melody/ a chorus that will relieve/ the sadness you keep at the bottom/ and let you feel free.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Tijoux, the feminist icon now in the midst of a wine-tinged minimalist phase, is not usually associated with such saccharine sentiment.

When performers of such quality team up one expects something with a little oomph to make the occasion worthwhile. Overall, “Play” is a disappointment. Better listen to “He Venido a Pedirte Perdón” again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYr5uEVB7OI

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