Have you ever looked at a photo of Everything But the Girl and assumed that the band's name has everything to do with the way singer Tracey Thorn looks? Well, truth is the sophisticated pop-dance British duo didn't adopt that name after listening to repeated rejections from record labels. Actually, they took it from a sign in a store that promised to sell "everything but the girl."
Well, here's another story of misunderstandings.
Mexican pop singer and songwriter Aleks Syntek, now 33, has spent the past 13 years as a recording artist. In the last four he achieved major success in his country after writing half of the songs and producing the soundtrack for Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas, which started the Mexican young filmmakers fever later prolonged by flicks like Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También. Syntek did that soundtrack at just the right time. In 1998 record execs in EMI Mexico were trying to decide whether he was a successful new face in pop music after the good sales of his second album (Más Fuerte de lo que Pensaba/Stronger Than I Thought, 1993), or whether he still was a little too edgy for mainstream pop after his two subsequent albums were less successful than his second.
The big sales of the soundtrack established him, for better or worse, as the Mexican Elton John; his chubby body, crewcut, sunglasses, and piano-sweetened pop songs made him seem like some descendant of the Brit born in the southeastern Mexican state of the Yucatán and raised on the music of New Jersey's Donald Fagen (from pop-rock band Steely Dan) and Argentine artists Fito Páez and Charly García.
What's wrong with that? Well, Syntek is a pure pop artist who is being shoved into a bag of "alternative" artists by EMI Latin in an effort to promote his new album, De Noche en la Ciudad (At Night in the City), in the States. There he is, crammed in with pioneer Puerto Rican rapper Vico-C, experimental Spanish rocker Enrique Bunbury, pop Colombian singer Cabas, and, yes, such actual alternative artists as French anarchist Manu Chao and Argentine power trio Catupecu Machu.
Syntek himself doesn't pretend to be anything he's not.
"With my music I try to reach a universal audience. In my shows in Mexico you can see parents mixed with young boys, conservative girls, and rockers," he says. "That's the magic I admire in Elton John or Billy Joel." He is no alternative artist and understands that his music, once again in this newest Eighties retro-funk album, "is pop enough to compete with [Mexico's] Paulina Rubio, Thalia, or Marco Antonio Solis, or even [Colombian] Juanes, who also is a universal musician."
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Syntek explains that De Noche en la Ciudad is his real first solo album since he parted ways with long-time mates in the band La Gente Normal (Normal People). "It is my most uninhibited album, and it's been a blast to do it," he says with a grin. "I used to love the way David Byrne or Thomas Dolby were capable to make fun of themselves, and that's why I didn't take myself seriously this time."
He doesn't like most of the Mexican rock bands that got media attention for spouting bad words. He doesn't mention Molotov, but that's who he means. "To me it was not at all original to be that scandalous; I thought that what was really original and valiant was to be naive, and to do a naive album." Syntek's art is totally Fifties, "glamorous and utopian as it was after the Second World War, when everybody wanted to see the opposite of violence, everything rose-tinted."
Well, Syntek delivers what he promises. His album is so naive that it is hard to find the irony after the first listening. A better tactic is to picture him behind the wheel of a Cadillac, driving all his girlfriends, as he says in the title song, to finally forget the idea of taking this guy seriously.