a version of this essay was published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 4 2009.
It took a while to get used to the sounds of Rico Blanco’s solo album Your Universe (Warner Music, 1998). It didn’t help that the first song “Say Forever” begins with a distinct electronica sound, made even more disconcerting by Blanco employing what sounds like a British accent (I’m at the central stay-shun/Without a des-ti-nay-shan). It has everything that would make a non-fan move on to the next CD on their shelf.
And yet, this just might the biggest mistake one can make. As soon as the strains of the title song “Your Universe” begins, it’s easy to see why Blanco became the soul of Rivermaya in his last years with the band. He has the writing chops that can melt anyone’s heart, without being mushy or corny about it. In this title track, as with many of the love songs in this debut, Blanco employs a distinct kind of songwriting that’s reinvents the formula with a different vocabulary and perspective altogether.
The chorus of “Your Universe” goes: “You hold me like I’m the one who’s precious/I hate to break it to you but it’s just/The other way around/You can thank your stars all you want but/I’ll always be the lucky one”, in the process turning the tables at the girl who thinks herself lucky. The jazzy track “Helpless” reinvents the love into longing by focusing on the lack of control one has over one’s emotions and memory. Even “Say Forever”, which deals with courtship, is different in the way it uses the metaphor of traveling with nowhere to go. And while the reconciliatory song “Start Again” might seem cliché, its angry tone allows it to be different from the usual let’s-get-back-together song.
With a slow pop rock vibe, a little electronica, and plenty of attitude, to say http://globalwebsolutions.co.uk/images/ that these songs work is an understatement. Even when it isn’t necessarily a love song, but an ode to the city (“Metropolis”) and the angst-ridden soul (“Outta This”). The only thing that works better than any of these love ditties are the album’s Filipino songs, which are mostly about love (save for current radio hit “Yugto”), and therefore can fall into the trap of clichés. And yet it is here that Blanco proves his songwriting chops, as he uses colloquial Filipino without making it sound like run-of-the-mill folksongs.
In “Ayuz” “Para Hindi Ka Mawala” and “Antukin”, Blanco pulls off love songs that are light but witty, the kind that will make any girl’s heart melt but will not be deemed too mushy. In “Ayuz” love is the one thing that makes the hassles of the day go away, while in “Para Hindi Ka Mawala” the acoustic accompaniment makes for what sounds like a modern harana. It is in “Antukin” though where Blanco outdoes himself where, using as core the Filipino saying “kapag gusto may paraan, kapag ayaw may dahilan“, he creates what could be a perfect wedding song.
And while his love songs are priceless, it is heavy rock song “Yugto” that would seem to be the perfect anthem for Blanco: “Ngunit hindi nila kayang baliin ang iyong loob/Ang pag-ibig na hawak mo’y hindi malulubog/Lumiyab ka/”. This song is as much a warning against the dangers of the world, as much as it is a song to fight and become.
It is obvious here that Blanco isn’t the best of singers, and yet it seems that in this case it is his sense of self as artist that shines through. The album Your Universe is made up of a diverse set of songs, and the sounds aren’t all familiar, but we are kept listening because Blanco seems to have more up his sleeve. All he needed, apparently, was to spread his wings and take solo flight.