Manero

Jorge González’s ESL Album

By: Marcelo Báez

Although he’s been flying under the radar since the mid ’90s, when his solo record sales failed to impress EMI, Jorge González still possesses the blueprint of a credible rock star’s career. In case you’re under 30 or have been living under a rock, here’s why: Jorge secured his place in the pantheon of musical greatness by writing and singing political, witty, catchy songs with beloved Chilean rock-pop band Los Prisioneros. Then, thanks to an assortment of musical endeavors—tinkerings with electronica, folk and even cumbia—González greatly expanded his repertoire. (And as an added bonus, his personal life has been a gold mine for gossip rags since inquiring minds want to know all the salacious details about Jorge’s drug abuse, adultery and *gasp* alleged bisexuality.)

González has resided in Berlin since the ’00s and, while no longer crafting stadium anthems, he keeps himself busy; English-sung collaborations with the German electropop project Sieg Über Die Sonne and the occasional guest spot have kept Jorge from turning up in some Where Are They Now? documentary. Still, if you’re a hardcore Prisioneros fan and can’t quite stomach all of his solo experiments, none of what Jorge has done in the last 14 years will speak to you—except, perhaps, 2013’s Libro, an expertly crafted album with songs that ranged from R&B to conventional pop and straight Chilean folk.

But if you really are this Prisioneros fan we’re making you out to be, you should probably drink an entire bottle of Concha y Toro before listening to Naked Tunes, the album González released under the moniker “Leonino.”

Naked Tunes, a limited-release from the indie label Hueso Records, consists of 10 songs sung entirely in English by Jorge González; and as the title suggests, they’re all stripped down instead of over produced. Take for instance “I Think We Should Be Friends” a song driven by an acoustic guitar that’s been delightfully decorated with hand claps and strings. Fun and playful, it’s the kind of song that’ll make you tap your car’s steering wheel when it suddenly pops on a playlist.

But the rest of these naked tunes are kind of a downer. The somber “Don’t Change Your Mind” and “My Time Is Gonna Come” aren’t exactly party songs. Others, such as “My Love Will Set You Free” and “How Many Times Did You Save My Soul” aim to be optimistic, but they drag. We’re all for the love around here, but none of these tracks sounds exceptional. González’s voice—the real ace under his sleeve—is dim and lacking detail. Are his 49-year-old vocal cords to blame? We know the quality of a singer’s voice can change dramatically once they reach middle age (looking at you, David Bowie). But that’s not the problem here because on “Ámate,” the doo-wop-y opening track of Libro, he sounded pristine, dynamic and impressive. Maybe vocal potency is lost in translation, then? Possibly. As a native Spanish speaker, he seems to have a hard time fully enunciating certain lyrics, which is a pity, because that sometimes distracts you from the fact that many of the arrangements in Naked Tunes are top notch.

If Libro managed to do justice to its title by operating as a well-balanced book made out of songs, Naked Songs can be seen as an example of Jorge’s eagerness to explore different ways of writing music. As an established musician, it takes a great deal of courage to be willing to challenge yourself and your admirers—especially if the final product is not reminiscent of your most beloved work. But sometimes that process can be awkward. Like standing naked in front of a class.

LOGISTICS: Naked Tunes by Leonino, stream and buy it here

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.