"I hope I'm not the same artist I was five years ago, because it would be impossible," says Ricky Martin, who will release "Life," English-language album since 2000's "Sound Loaded," Oct. 11 via Colum

In July, members of the Miami media were invited to a listening session for "Life," Ricky Martin's first English-language album since 2000's "Sound Loaded." It was a nice affair, with good food and drink and a great sound system. What set it apart, however, was Martin himself.

The Puerto Rican star not only appeared, but also made a point of personally greeting everyone in the room, from top radio programmers to community newspaper reporters.

The gesture brought back images of Martin signing albums for literally thousands of fans when he was in the throes of promoting "Ricky Martin," his English-language debut, in 1999.

Now, as Columbia prepares for the Oct. 11 release of "Life," the aim is to have this singularly personable star reconnect with his fans.

"One of the first things we did was put him on a tour and have Ricky personally hand-deliver the vinyl single to DJs across the country," Sony BMG VP of creative marketing Rocco Lanzilotta says of leadoff track "I Don't Care."

"We showed up at clubs, unannounced. And there he was, dancing, talking to people, taking pictures," Lanzilotta continues. "It was going back to the basics of bringing music to his fans."

It would be a misstatement to call "Life" the return of Martin, as his last studio album was 2003's Spanish-language "Almas Del Silencio." But "Life" is a departure in sound for an artist who many mainstream listeners still associate with "Livin' La Vida Loca."

"I hope I'm not the same artist I was five years ago, because it would be impossible," says Martin, who has spent much of the past two years dedicated to philanthropic endeavors. "Life -- where it takes you, what you see, what you read -- changes you. Definitely, when I began to create for this album, the one thing I wanted was to not even attempt to do what I had already done. That's why I played with many genres I hadn't visited before, and I made them mine."

The new genres include the world beat of "'Til I Get to You" and the hip-hop feel of "I Don't Care," which features Fat Joe and Amerie. The track was sent to radio Aug. 30 in English, Spanish and reggaetón versions, all of which are included on the album.

The single debuted at No. 98 on The Billboard Hot 100 and is No. 88 on the Pop 100 chart. On the Hot Latin Songs list, it debuted at No. 39 in mid-September, and is now No. 28, helped in part by Luny Tunes' reggaetón remix.

The Dominican producers also worked on another track on the album, "Drop It on Me," which features reggaetón star Daddy Yankee and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas.

"Life," however, is not a reggaetón album. It is not even an urban album, despite the inclusion of several songs along those lines.

The older, calmer Martin seems ready to embrace the new, but also to continue to build on his past. In other words, do not expect "The Cup of Life" and "Livin' La Vida Loca" to disappear from that reality. They will both be part of his tour, performed, he says, more energetically than ever.

"I can humbly say they are songs that marked an era," Martin says. "They are meaningful, and it's marvelous to go into a restaurant and still have people say to you: 'Hey, alé, alé, alé.'"

In November, Martin kicks off his world tour in Mexico, playing 15 Latin countries before launching U.S. and European tours in 2006.





Excerpted from the Oct. 15, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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