Marc Anthony is on the telephone from Los Angeles, talking about the deepest parts of his art -- how he uses melody and vocal color to tell a story in his songs that's deeper than words -- when it occurs to him that he doesn't get to talk about music much in interviews.
"We're talking about philosophy, my philosophy as a musician," he says. "I never have this conversation with anyone [in the press]. It's always about, 'Oh, uh, so you wear Prada?'
" 'So is that the new look?'
" 'No, I wear Prada.' "
He laughs in mild exasperation. "There's just this skimming the surface kind of thing, when we could have a decent conversation on philosophy, and the art of singing and writing," he says, wistfully.
That Anthony would want to talk music is no surprise, considering that he just released what he feels is the most satisfying and personal album of his career. Recorded in collaboration with some of the most successful writer/producers in America, "Marc Anthony" is poised to make the singer -- already one of the biggest stars in Latin music -- a permanent resident of the hit parade.
But rather than ask about his musical influences and writing regimen, most interviewers have focused on Anthony's fame. They want to know how it felt to be the only salsa performer ever to sell out New York's Madison Square Garden; what it was like to work with Paul Simon and Ruben Blades on Broadway in "The Capeman"; if he's excited to have a major role in the new Martin Scorcese movie, "Bringing Out the Dead" (which opens Oct. 22).
But what really bugs him is when they use the C-word: crossover.
"I really don't know what that's about," he says. "I'm not coming from someplace else. I'm American. I was born and raised in New York. So what I'm crossing over to, I have no idea."
Indeed, Anthony -- born Marco Antonio Muniz 31 years ago -- actually had to be tutored in Spanish while working as a salsero (salsa musician). "I started out singing in English," he says. "I think in English. I don't think [the term] applies.
"But my opinion doesn't count. People are going to say what they're going to say. I'm confident that my music will speak for itself, and people will see it for what it is. I'm counting on that, more than anything."
As well he should, because the songs on "Marc Anthony" convey the full range of his ability. From the dramatic restraint of the heartbreak ballad "My Baby You" to the salsa-spiced punch of his danceable current single, "I Need to Know," the album portrays Anthony as a master stylist capable of animating almost any melody.
Of course, these aren't just any songs. When Anthony began writing for this album, collaborating on the songs with his producers, he took pains to shape each verse, chorus and harmony part for maximum dramatic impact.
"The songs were written in such a way that they lend themselves to that dynamic," he says. "Where a song could start as a whisper and end up as a scream. Or start as a scream. But there's always a time to scream, and a time to whisper, and everything in-between."
All of the music's dramatics stem from a sense of narrative -- of conveying a mood, a situation, an emotion. Anthony wants his listeners to understand what his songs are about even if they don't pay attention to the words, and compares the attention to detail he put into writing the music to the care a film director will put into constructing a set.
"They dress up a train station, and they put everybody in place so that it's perfect," he says. "That basically is what the music is to the melody and the lyric and the performance. It's very theatrical that way."
The vocals were frequently just the work of an instant. "Like, 80 percent of [the album] was just like the demo vocals," he says. "Those are just those 5-in-the-morning takes. After writing the song, I'd lay it down -- those are the vocals you're listening to. So it has a very, very interesting edge to it." He laughs, and adds, "I'm sure that 5 in the morning had a lot to do with it."
Anthony adds that emphasizing the drama and narrative in a song is something of a personal trademark.
"That was always my M.O.," he says. "Always, even in Spanish. That's what people react to the most, and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. I think that's how you should tell a story.
"I mean, I'm a singer," he says. "And if you're going to be a singer, just wrap yourself up in it. Understand it. Take it somewhere. Tell your story convincingly."