Nuclear Countdown

Valdez is dreaming again

If "The Will" isn't one of the big hit records of 1992, there is no justice, and even if it is, there's still no justice, but that's another story. Right there in the first ten seconds of the new Nuclear Valdez album Dream Another Dream lies the clue, the key, the reminder of what makes Miami's homeboy heroes a rock band. Not pop or Latin or, God forbid, dance band. Rock band.

In the first few seconds of "The Will," you hear a quiet, subdued wash of noise and some mysterious, druidy mumbling, a subtle draw to the volume knob. But don't turn it up too loud, because those cave noises quickly explode - nuclear explosion - into a guitar-drums mushroom cloud. This ain't no art-rock-meandering album, the intro tells us, this is the Nukes, a bar band gone big time, but not gone completely away from what they do best.

That the song evolves into a deadly infectious groover, a song of melody and hooks rather than ambiant chaos, hints at what is to follow as you toe-tap your way through the rest of the Dream. These are big songs, produced (by Steve Brown) almost - almost - to a fault. Once you hear Dream, you don't have to be told that Brown has also boarded acts such as Wham! and the Cult. Not that the Nukes sound like those groups, they don't, but their record does; it's compartmentalized and plays like a completed jigsaw puzzle where you can see the lines and figure out how Brown and the musicians put each piece in its place.

It's a big puzzle - slide guitar coloring the erratic "I Think I Fell," charango setting up the churning "Without Words," and tons of other specialized riffs and fills - and one whose completed picture is at once paradoxical and perfectly logical. The Nukes - singer Fro Sosa, bassist Juan Diaz, guitarist Jorge Barcala, and drummer Robert Slade LeMont - will tell you that they've outgrown I Am I, that they're ready to move up to the next level, and the fact is, if Valdez was already popular, this LP would be nominated for a Grammy. Hell, there's even a complex horn-section configuration on "Dream Another Dream Alive."

The new album replaces I Am I's straightforwardness and punch with elongated and involved arrangements, it's comparatively scatterbrained. Though Dream begins with two songs reminiscent of the old Nukes ("The Will" and "(Share a Little) Shelter") the next three songs on Side One require the listener to become involved, to study closely to get the whole picture. Rather than knocking you over with sheer force and raw power, these songs ingratiate themselves, taking their own sweet time getting under your skin.

Perhaps all this explains why Valdez - or somebody - decided it would be a good idea to remake "Eve," the song on I Am I that seemed, to a critic at least, to be the certain hit single. All Brown and the boys did was soup the song up a bit, adding more instrumentation to it while simultaneously separating with space some portions of the arrangement. It's essentially the same song with a different producer, and that says plenty about rock records. And the reviews that ponder them.

But no Miami medium could possibly not comment about the new album. It will, for one thing, give the Miami Herald ample opportunity to drop hot words such as "Cuban," "Latin," and "Hispanic." The band and their label even bring ethnicity into the game, and while there are some south-of-the-border (lyricist and smart guy Diaz would say "Iberian") influences, and while the members are of that heritage, the Nukes, and their sound, are about as Latin as Palm Beach County. You can slap congas and spoken-en espanol-word snippets on songs without turning into Willy Chirino, and the Nukes did. Miami is already devoted to and fascinated with the work of this band - that's the reason commentary is required - but Santeria chants and charanga riffs aren't exactly the way to win the Midwest, which is what the group's label, Epic, requires. If this is a commercial sellout, which some will insist it is, Valdez went about it the wrong way.

Maybe it's simply better, or at least easier, to look at it this way: I Am I was recorded in Los Angeles and the video, for "Summer," was shot here in Miami. The first video for the new album was shot in L.A., but the record itself was cut at Criteria in North Miami. I Am I sold a relatively measly 40,000 copies despite a national and European tour, and the fact that it is a tremendously worthwhile rock album that endures. Dream Another Dream is now due in record stores January 21. Because the release date has been bumped several times, local insiders have been listening to advances of it for months now. We asked a few of them to offer their opinions. Fortunately, none of our panelists used the word "Latin" once.

Carlos SuarezCo-owner of Flippers record store

Welcome to their dream: The Sony/Epic band's second effort will catapult them into critics' - as well as listeners' - Top 10 lists. The "funky drummer" meets Orquesta Aragon meets end-era Roxy Music ("Aragon") plus the potentially Top-20-bound CD's lead track, the dance-groove inflected "The Will," and the melodic powerhouses "Sense Her All Around" and "I Think I Fell," and the guitar/drums-driven gospel fervor of "(Share a Little) Shelter" add up to a dream come true for us lovers of fresh rock sounds.

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