With Saturn transiting the water sign of Pisces for the next few years, it’s fitting that Rauw Alejandro’s 2022 album SATURNO found its way to the beach. The blue-haired bad boy from the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, who has a penchant for panty-dropping falsettos and ’90s-style flows, built his name making clubby reggaeton just different enough to be interesting. The music is about ass-shaking, yes, but it’s always accompanied by compelling details: a leftfield synth loop, an electric guitar riff worthy of a rock en español track, a Baby Rasta and Gringo interpolation that shows Alejandro’s ear is finely tuned to the old school.
SATURNO was a playful maelstrom of these influences, a concept album that positioned the Puerto Rican star, who donned a chic cyberpunk aesthetic for the release, as an experimental and meticulous presence. He set the bar as an unconventional mainstream reggaetonero, both in his own work and in collaborations (take Tainy’s recent producer project DATA, where Alejandro goes back and forth effortlessly with Skrillex and Four Tet). His crooning tenor is one of the prettier voices among the Olympus of pop reggaeton titans, and his moves are unmatched; just ask the Jabbawockeez, the iconic masked hip-hop crew who spent the last few months breakdancing alongside Alejandro on tour. On PLAYA SATURNO, envisioned as a “spinoff” of its celestially minded predecessor, Alejandro attempts to stretch the stardust to the tune of 14 new songs. Unfortunately dampened by filler tracks, the album winds up lost in space.
For starters, many of the collaborations struggle to live up to their promise. Alejandro’s reliably excellent vocal performances, full of careening vocoder belting and enviably erotic delivery, are still not enough to bring everything together. On lead single “Si te pegas,” Spanish pop icon Miguel Bosé makes a treasured appearance after eight years of vocal difficulties. But rather than a legendary comeback, Bosé’s feature feels tacked-on; his famously velveteen voice shines briefly before he drowns in an ocean of tepid keys and snare rolls. Guanajuato’s golden boy Junior H makes an appearance on “Picardía,” but doesn’t indulge in the relaxed drawl that makes corrido tumbado so powerful. Instead of a potentially exciting cross-genre moment, the rising Mexican star is squashed into a copy-paste feature that could have been spit by anyone.
This is not to say there aren’t showstoppers. The Ivy Queen feature “Celebrando,” a deliciously disjointed electro-perreo that spotlights her distinctive snarl and interpolates the iconic harpsichord of her signature song “Quiero bailar,” feels like an intentional co-sign of El Zorro by La Caballota. Jowell & Randy’s appearance on the appropriately named “Ponte nasty,” a horny anthem with a dembow beat straight out of a sweaty marquesina, adds a touch of grime to one of the hardest tracks at this cosmic beach bash. “I want to fuck her/She wants to fuck me,” Alejandro breathily rasps in English, tapping into the cheeky confidence that makes him so irresistible.
Alejandro’s Bizarrap session, released last month, closes the album on a high note. After a slog of generic beats built for the background music of the afters, long after anyone has stopped listening, it feels unearned. Not even Kenobi Sensei’s ever-shiny production, which has bolstered Alejandro from the start, can make PLAYA SATURNO stand on its own; nor can experiments like the downtempo reggae track “No me sorprende.” Without a framework that allows the real gems to shine, PLAYA SATURNO is just another party album, a chart-chasing reggaeton offering that could move bodies on the dancefloor, but won’t move the needle. It feels imprecise to think of this album as a true sequel to SATURNO, even though it was crafted as a continuation. If the initial record harnessed the energy of the planet, this collection more closely resembles Saturn’s rings: a shiny decoration of ice and dust held in place by the gravity of a more substantial body.