The cover art of Alejandro Sanz’s recently released new album depicts the Spanish troubadour clinging to a shipwrecked piano, engulfed by menacing ocean swells.
The record’s title track, “La Música No Se Toca,” or “You Can’t Touch the Music,” is a swooning testimony to music’s power as an indomitable force of nature, a buffer against the undercurrents of fate and the riptides of mortality.
“The music will remain,” Sanz sings, in Spanish, in his signature earnest rasp. “The music is forever …. God guard music.”
Such lofty sentiments and high-flown symbolism might seem grandiose or pretentious in the hands of lesser performers.
But Sanz, 43, has sold millions of records and won 16 Latin Grammy and three Grammy Awards with exactly this kind of wildly romantic lyricism that stems from the singer-songwriter’s flamenco-influenced roots. Although salsa, rock, funk, jazz and hip-hop have seeped into his records since his 1997 breakout release, “Más” (More), flamenco’s flaming hues supply the primary colors of Sanz’s emotional palette.
“I think the most important thing when you’re making a new record is not to have any preconceptions or limitations about what you’re going to include or the type of sound that you’re not going to include,” Sanz said recently, speaking in Spanish by phone from Miami, where he was doing promotional work prior to launching a Mexican concert tour that includes a Nov. 1 date in Tijuana.
“The only thing I always want to include is emotion,” he continued. “The only thing that I always want to express as an artist and that I believe the entire world responds to in the songs is emotion. If I use influences from dance music or Hindu music or whatever, it’s in order to obtain emotion in the songs.”
The emotional states that Sanz acts out in his music can be unsteady and rhythmically violent. Although they never swallow up his melodies, they at times saturate them like a river threatening to overflow its banks.
Like flamenco, a tightly disciplined and traditional art form in which dancers and singers whirl themselves into a trance-like ecstasy, Sanz’s music exists in a constant tug-of-war between control and release. His best songs balance formal elegance — he generally writes in long, metaphor-laden, complete sentences — with an intensely passionate expressiveness.
Although he named one of his sons Dylan (as in Bob), Sanz’s own emotive style might put Anglophone listeners more in mind of Neil Diamond. He is surely among the least ironic of global pop superstars.
“La Música No Se Toca,” which made its debut at No. 1 on the iTunes Latino Album chart and has yielded a No. 1 single, “No Me Compares,” on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, extends that trajectory. It brims with lush melodies and well-ripened lyrics about dazzling, fiery women and heart-rending separations.
The disc’s swelling, quasi-symphonic atmosphere can be credited to the collaboration between Sanz and Colombian co-producer Julio Reyes Copello, a classically trained two-time Grammy winner.
“I was looking for someone to work on the records that knew classical harmony and also new modern arrangements,” Sanz said. “Julio Reyes meets all those requirements.”
His new record also finds Sanz turning inward and facing himself. In the past he has partnered with a number of A-list Spanish-language artists, most prominently Colombia’s Shakira on her international monster hit “La Tortura.” During his 2010 tour he kept company with Dominican singer-songwriter-producer Juan Luis Guerra and Residente of the Puerto Rican urban/hip-hop duo Calle 13, among others.
On “La Música No Se Toca,” his Universal Music Group debut after 20 years with Warner, Sanz mainly accompanies himself. It’s perhaps not surprising that such a self-reflective record is being released during a year in which Sanz married his girlfriend and former assistant, Raquel Perera, who had given birth to the couple’s first child.
Sanz, who previously was married to Mexican fashion model Jaydy Michel, indicated that being a husband and father again feels different this time around.
“I think I have more confidence,” he said, “and a deeper reflection of how it affects everything else in my life.”
Another new opportunity: to reconsider the shape of his career while serving as a coach-mentor on the inaugural season of “La Voz … México,” a Spanish-language version of the popular talent-search show “The Voice.” The Mexican edition of the program, which aired on Mexico’s Televisa network, attracted hundreds of thousands of aspiring singers, a phenomenon that Sanz believes “shows that there’s still a great interest in music, and there’s a great interest in becoming an artist.”
At an earlier stage of life, he suggested, he might’ve been one of those hopeful contestants.
“Inside me, the only thing I wanted to do was make music,” said Sanz, who began singing and playing guitar as a youth raised in a tough Madrid neighborhood and later came to idolize flamenco artists like Paco de Lucía. “It’s so powerful, this dream that started in infancy.”
Like most Spaniards, Sanz over the past months has watched his country’s mounting financial problems with concern. Yet he cautions that the situation might not be quite as dire as it has been depicted.
“The truth is that the perceptions of outside countries always are more exaggerated than what’s going on inside,” he said. “That’s not to negate the problems. But the people aren’t starving in the streets. I saw pictures in the New York Times of people doing that. I don’t know where they took them. It may have been in barrios that are like bad neighborhoods in Los Angeles or Miami. So the photos are a little sensationalistic.”
As for himself, he will keep riding the waves the way he always has, with music. He plans to be on the road touring for at least a year, then hopes to get back in the studio some time after that.
“But right now,” he said of the upcoming tour, “I require all my forces.”