Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
From the second-story home studio in a corner of his waterfront Miami Beach home, Alejandro Sanz pauses a moment before clicking the "play" button on his computer.
The song he is sharing, still unmastered, is called "Sandy a Orilla do Mundo," one of the last tracks recorded for his upcoming studio album, "No Es lo Mismo."
One might expect the dramatic track to be about a woman, but in this case, "Sandy" is named for a beach -- Spain's Costa de la Muerte, which was devastated after an oil tanker spill late last year.
It's a gut-wrenching, trademark Sanz song, made so by the raspy voice, the improvised vocals, the jazzy instrumentation. And if you didn't know what a perfectionist Sanz is in the studio, you would think he recorded it live.
"That's the sensation in the entire album," Sanz says as he turns down the volume. "I wanted that, too. Everyone auto-tunes their vocals, but I like it like this. I have a very flamenco manner of singing, and I like to do unexpected things. That's music. And in the end, people look for artists who they really believe."
Sanz is an artist to be believed -- because of what he sings; it's what he writes. And because of what he does; the royalties from "Sandy," for example, will be ceded to an institution that protects the coast of Galicia in Spain. And because of what he sells; 18 million albums worldwide since 1991, according to his label.
Sanz says he named his album "No Es lo Mismo" partly in response to repeated complaints he heard about a supposed "creative crisis" in Spain.
"I don't believe there's such a thing," Sanz says. "Because there are many people doing many interesting things. And this album is something that's recognizable, but it's not the same."
The title track is the lead single. The forceful, midtempo song is topping airplay charts in Spain, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. In Mexico, it is in the top-5, according to Warner. In the U.S. it has so far risen to No. 16 on Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart.
Parting ways with longtime producer Emanuele Ruffinengo, Sanz has instead paired up with relatively unknown-Cuban musician Lulo Perez -- with whom he co-produced the album. It is the first time Sanz, who writes all the songs, also produced his own material. (He has produced for other artists, notably flamenco singer Nina Pastori.)
"In music, as in everything, there are stages," he says. "And it was time to change, or else we were all going to be going around doing the same thing. No one knows Lulo, but I'm betting on him. I'm betting on this album, and I'm betting on this Cuban musician who has a lot of art."
Cuba plays a role in Sanz's album, with one song, "Labana," dedicated to Havana. The artist has been openly critical of Fidel Castro's stance toward dissidents.
Beyond that, "No Es lo Mismo" is truly an evolutionary album. It finds Sanz in a far more commercial place than with "El Alma" but in a far more experimental mood, with contributions from friends like seminal flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia.
At least 20 tour dates in the U.S. are booked for April and May 2004 as part of Sanz's international tour, which kicks off in February in South America.
Excerpted from the Aug. 30, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
To order a single copy of the issue, visit The Billboard Store.