After Tejano-music superstar Selena Quintanilla was gunned down by a disgruntled employee at a Texas motel four months ago, there was a good deal of sad talk about how the "Mexican Madonna" was just about to make it into the mainstream. According to her record company, EMI, Selena was in the process of recording her first English-language album, one many of her mourners believed would have made the 24-year-old as big a star among Anglos as she was in the Latin music market.
Selena never finished that album, but that hasn't stopped EMI. Although "Dreaming of You" (EMI 43123, arriving in stores today) is hardly the album Selena imagined -- it includes only four new English-language tunes, with the rest of the album given over to remixes, rarities and Spanish-language oldies -- it should bring Selena at least some of the crossover success she craved.
But she won't be getting it for the reasons she wanted.
Just as sales for Selena's Spanish-language albums exploded after the news of her death, it seems inevitable that this album, too, will benefit from the publicity that followed her tragic death. Of course, several of the songs on "Dreaming" will already be familiar to longtime fans, as "Amor Prohibido," "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" and "Como la Flor" were all big hits on the Latin charts. Two other tunes, "Missing My Baby" and "Wherever You Are," should also seem vaguely familiar, as the former is a soul-harmony remix of Selena's only previous English-language performance, while the latter is a remake of her chart-topping duet with the Barrio Boyzz, "Dondequiera Que Estes," in which the Boyzz's vocals were redubbed in English.
Judging from the tracks she completed, the English-language Selena was going to be a husky-voiced, wholesome amalgam of Paula Abdul and early Madonna.
Admittedly, the new material on "Dreaming of You" is by no means as danceable as Abdul or Madonna's best; none are as rhythmically insinuating as "Techno Cumbia," one of the album's oldies. But it's no problem that these new tracks prefer perky charm over aggressive, club-savvy grooves, as there's something so straight-laced about Selena's musical persona that it would have seemed out of character for her to have attempted the kind of club-conscious material Madonna does now.
Take, for example, the album's title tune. "Dreaming of You" takes a delightfully literal approach to the phrase "sleeping together" as Selena's protagonist visits her love only in her dreams. An endearingly innocent expression of love and longing, it sounds exactly like the sort of thing Madonna was doing a decade ago -- right down to the dramatic, throaty vibrato she uses to flesh out the low notes in the chorus.
Then there's Selena's attempt at Abdul-ery, "Captive Heart." Offering the album's most convincing replication of R&B;, this synth-spiked exercise in pop-soul would have been perfect for MTV -- about eight years ago. Still, the catchy chorus and sensual singing go a long way toward making this otherwise-dated music seem fresh.
Those are relatively daring efforts compared to the romantic mush proffered by "I Could Fall In Love." Despite a thumping, hip-hop-derived drumbeat, the slow-moving melody and hokey, heartbreak lyrics are cut from the same cloth as the traditional Tex-Mex corridos she grew up hearing.
It's certainly pleasant, but it takes more than a few rippling Spanish guitar flourishes to spice up such bland balladry.
"I'm Getting Used to You" is conservative in a much more imaginative way. Driven by a supple Latin-funk pulse, it has more than enough rhythmic buoyancy to let Selena cut loose -- and cut loose she does.
Although the verse doesn't offer much to work with, the chorus provides plenty of room for soulful exhortations and sassy improvisation, and that offers the clearest sense of just what Selena might have accomplished had she been able to pursue her crossover dreams.
SONGS FROM SELENA
To hear excerpts from Selena's "Dreaming of You," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6146 after you hear the greeting.