Las Ketchup: Hijas del Tomate/Christina Aguilera: Stripped

CURRENTLY TOP of the charts not only in their native Spain but right across Europe and — as of Sunday — in Britain as well, Las Ketchup are the three daughters of a flamenco guitarist called Tomate.

Whoever signed them was a genius. The trio’s debut single, ‘The Ketchup Song (Asereje)’, is a speeded-up Spice Girls singing ‘The Birdie Song’ in Spanglish. Actually, it’s a folk tale about a fashion-conscious gypsy called Diego, although you can’t tell that from the lyrics. Not that it matters. You can do a daft dance to ‘The Ketchup Song’, sing along as if you’re Maurice from the Bee Gees and pretend you’re somewhere sunny wearing a sombrero, which is what European pop is supposed to be about.

Needless to say, Pilar, Lola and Lucia don’t stray far from the formula on Hijas del Tomate (Daughters of the Tomato) (Columbia). Instead, like animated mice in a Disney movie, they set off around the world on a big adventure. So on ‘Kusha Las Payas’ they don furry hats and do Cossack dancing. On ‘Un De Vez En Cuando’ they conga down a beach to Spanish guitars, shouting “hombre”. And on the sitar-soaked ‘Tengo Un NovioTántriko’ they find rodent peace in the Far East. Along the way, there are four versions of ‘The Ketchup Song’, although long before you reach the last two, what started off as a good idea has become intensely irritating.

Christina Aguilera began her career as a sensible pop puppet who had Britney Spears in her sights. Last week, however, Aguilera — already the worst-dressed woman in pop — revealed her latest look, best described as cowgirl-meets-cheap-hooker. An odd choice, since Stripped (RCA) is supposed to be the sound of her taking control of her own career.

Musically, Stripped sees Aguilera follow Spears’s path to a more grown-up, urban R&B sound. But while she carries it off quite convincingly, it’s a shame to hear her stunning, multi-octave voice masked by so much production.

Like most of the uptempo tracks on the album, the first single, ‘Dirrty’, is a gritty, funk workout that sounds like Whitney Houston trying to do Destiny’s Child. No bad thing, of course, but nothing new.

The superb ‘Can’t Hold Us Down’ is in the same vein, but relies on a more adventurous, Missy Elliott-like rhythm. Aguilera scats lines about society’s double standards, i.e. men can sleep around and get away with it, but if women do the same, they’re called whores, but a call to arms would be more persuasive if she didn’t look quite so tarty.

For her more conservative fans, there are plenty of piano-backed ballads of love and relationships — including a duet with Alicia Keys — and some downtempo, jazzy tracks that have Aguilera doing a decent Aretha Franklin impression.

At 21 tracks Stripped is too long, but it’s a flawed pop masterpiece that should see Aguilera blow Spears out of the water. Unfortunately that hooker look is going to turn a lot of fans off before they get a chance to hear it.

© Lisa VerricoThe Times, 18 October 2002

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