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Bunbury

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The godfather of rock en español in his native Spain, singer and songwriter Enrique Bunbury is among the most successful musical artists to emerge from Western Europe in the late 20th century.
As frontman for Heroes del Silencio, Bunbury's diverse songwriting skills and empassioned singing on their 1988 multiplatinum debut El Mar No Cesa to their final chart-topping studio outing Avalancha in 1995, their meld of folk traditions, punk, new wave, indie rock, and pop paved the way for countless artists. Bunbury emerged as a solo artist with Radical Sonora, delivering his passions, aspirations, loves, and failures through a wider range of sounds. He came across to Anglo audiences as a dead cross between Scott Walker, Joe Strummer, and Iggy Pop, an intense, questioning, mercurial artist who followed a labyrinthine musical path. He has gained legions of fans across Europe and the Americas. He crossed the pop chart pantheon with 2008's Hellville de Luxe, produced by Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera. It showcased Bunbury's passionate baritone in songs that melded Middle Eastern, cabaret, caballero, blues, flamenco, milonga, bolero, cumbia, electro, roots and garage rock, heavy metal, and electronic genres. After releasing his smash Las Consecuencias in 2010, Bunbury bought a house in Los Angeles where he lives half the time. 2015's MTV Unplugged: El Libro de Las Mutaciones featured appearances from Draco Rosa, Carla Morrison, Vetusta Morla, and Pepe Aguilar, and topped the international charts. For 2017's Expectativas, the singer took home his first solo Latin Grammy for Album of the Year.
Bunbury was born in Zaragoza and took to rock & roll and Spain's own glorious musical traditions with equal enthusiasm. He sang lead in a high school rock band called Apocalipsis, and later joined Proceso Entrópico. He dropped his first name when he joined guitarist Juan Valdivia in 1986 to form and front the rock band Héroes del Silencio, along with bassist Joaquin Cardiel and drummer Pedro Andreu. Heroes del Silencio -- one of rock en español's architect bands -- provided Bunbury with twin models that would guide him throughout his career: first was the melding of his wide range of rock, pop, classical, folk, and Gypsy influences in a manner that would underscore -- and not water down -- his Spanish-Latino identity. The second notion was that change itself is a primary engine of creativity.
The group's pop debut, El Mar No Cesa, appeared in 1988. It hit number 56 on the Spanish chart and received solid airplay. He released the (now triple-platinum) classic Senderos de Traición in 1990. The group took on a more aggressive sound for their final two studio recordings, El Espíritu del Vino (1993) and Avalancha (1996), both of which went multi-platinum as well. Paired with an electrifying live show, each of the band's recordings subsequent to its debut went to the top of the Spanish charts and entered the Top Five in other European countries as well. For his part, Bunbury grew not only as a singer, refining his style and stage persona, but as an exceptional lyricist. The band split in 1996, though they have had several live reunion records since.
Bunbury formed a new band called Copi in 1997 and that same year issued his first head-turning (and controversial) album, an experimental electro-industrial rock set titled Radical Sonora that included the singles "Alicia (Expulsada al País de las Maravillas)" and "Salome." In spite of hard touring behind it, the record did not chart but has come to be respected as a classic. Undaunted, the artist challenged his audience yet again with 1999's Pequeño. Bunbury reinvented himself with a new band he called El Huracán Ambulante, with whom he savored and fused his Arabic and Latin American roots. Songs like "Infinito" and "El Viento a Favor" opened doors to new audiences. The album's emotional songs and the band's kinetic live show were performed in Spain and Latin America, and crossed the Atlantic to Mexico, where he recorded Pequeño Cabaret Ambulante, a live album that included new and unreleased material. He released the studio album Flamingos in 2002, which, like its predecessors, offered a change in direction as it placed his songwriting style and genre assimilations in a harder-edged context that embraced heavy metal.
While Bunbury's tours were sold-out affairs more often than not, and he received ample radio play and YouTube views, the charts were not yet forgiving. The year 2004 was hectic for him. He was part of a collaborative project called Bushido with songwriter/poet Carlos Ann, Shuarma (Elephants), and Morti (Skizoo). They delivered a provocative literary and artful self-titled recording. With Ann, as well as writers José María Ponce and Bruno Galindo, Bunbury recorded a two-disc-and-book offering entitled Leopoldo Maria Panero, named for the tragic Spanish poet. Bunbury also worked on his own music, issuing the double-length studio album El Viaje a Ninguna Parte. The recording wed the artist's songwriting skills to Pan-American sounds from Argentina to New Orleans, embodying jazz, cumbia, tango, and Brazilian music. It charted at number 39 in Spain. For the live album Freak Show, Bunbury and El Huracán Ambulante enlisted guests including Ivan Ferreiro, Adría Punti, Ann, Mercedes Ferrer, and songwriter Nacho Vegas. The album went to number three in Spain, and Bunbury was back on top.
After leaving the road for a time, he re-examined his direction yet again. He focused on American-style folk, rock, and early psychedelia as he and Vegas collaborated to release the 20-song double-set El Tiempo de las Cerezas in 2006. Its command is total, the collaboration seamless, and it remains one of the most underrated offerings in his catalog. Bunbury reunited with Héroes del Silencio for a reunion tour, selling out its ten dates in the U.S., Latin America, and Spain. An audio-video testimonial album, Tour 2007, was issued and hit number one in Spain and Mexico. A year later, a documentary photo book titled Tesoro was published, featuring the work of widely celebrated Spanish art and rock photographer Jose Girl. Also in 2008, Bunbury's renewed love of North American rock & roll figured heavily into Hellville de Luxe, his fifth studio album. Produced by former Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, it achieved gold status in Spain and hit the top spot on the country's album charts. Its popularity ensured a transatlantic tour that found the artist playing bigger venues to abundant, enthusiastic crowds.
Hellville de Luxe was the beginning of a new chart era for Bunbury, though he was unfazed by it. Instead of following suit with another album in the same vein, he once again changed focus to reveal his intimate troubadour side on 2010's Las Consecuencias. The set's singles included a cover of Manuel Alejandro and Ana Magdalena's classic "Frente a Frente" in duet with singer Miren Iza of Tulsa. The original was recorded in 1981 by Jeanette on her Corazón de Poeta album, and is subtitled "Jeanette's Version" here. Other album singles included "De Todo el Mundo" and "Los Habitantes." Las Consecuencias also hit number one in Spain and was followed by a 30-city North American bus tour. Bunbury and his band often played for tiny audiences as he tried -- and succeeded -- in building new touring markets the old-fashioned way, which took him far outside of major American coastal cities and into the nation's interior to places like Detroit and Salt Lake City. In the midst of it all, he moved to Los Angeles. (He was splitting his time between living in the U.S. and Spain.) Later in the year, Bunbury recorded the triple-length live set Gran Rex at the gorgeous Buenos Aires Theater. It was released in 2011 and hit number one on the Spanish charts. It was followed by another Héroes del Silencio reunion tour, and culminated in Live in Germany, which reached the top of that country's charts.
Bunbury's fevered pace and chameleon-like changes continued on 2012's Licenciado Cantinas. Its contents offered new versions of some of South and Central America's most popular songs from composers Willie Colón, Hector Lavoe, Louie Ortega, and Atahualpa Yupanqui, among others. Bunbury utilized these classic songs and forms as he would his own, telling stories of heartbreak and death while combining a wealth of rhythms and grooves. A short film, Licenciado Cantinas: The Movie, was directed by Alexis Morante and released as part of a special-edition box set. It reached number two. A live album, De Cantina en Cantina: On Stage 2011-12, was also released. In 2013, the artist transformed yet again. Palosanto paired emotionally loaded songs and melodies with slick, dark, cold production, as evidenced in the singles "Despierta," "Más Alto Que Nosotros Sólo el Cielo," and "Todo." The juxtaposition worked with fans. When combined with the fact that Bunbury uploaded every track to YouTube, the album landed at number two without a big label promotional push.
In early 2015, Bunbury was invited by MTV to record an episode of Unplugged, which he subtitled El Libro de las Mutaciones ("The Book of Mutations"). In a letter to fans in advance of the album's late-in-the-year release, he wrote that it was not "a compilation album of great successes" and did not represent his catalog evenly; instead, it offered a chance to revisit songs he hadn't thought about in many years. Some included tunes he'd cut with Héroes del Silencio, some with his current band Los Santos Inocentes, and some were never included on his earlier albums. The artist invited guests Robi Draco Rosa, Leon Larregui, Carla Morrison, Pepe Aguilar, and Vetusta Morla to share the microphone with him on various tunes. The album placed at number ten on Billboard's Hot Latin Albums chart. In mid-2016, a warts-and-all Morante-directed documentary of Bunbury's 2010 North American bus tour and was released as El Camino Más Largo.
In November, he released two multi-volume compilation albums covering some 20 years. Archivos, Vol. 1: Tributos y BSOs, a double disc, gathered songs he'd contributed to cinema, television, and musical theater projects, as well his cover versions of Miguel Rios, El Niño Gusano, and a previously unissued version of Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman." Archivos, Vol 2: Duetos was a three-disc, three-plus-hour extravaganza of collaborations with a wide range of artists including Maria Dolores Pradera, Jaime Urrutia, Andrés Calamaro, Mikel Erentxun, Draco Rosa, younger bands including León Benavente and Zoé, and underground rockers Le Punk and Chus Rebel.
The following year, Bunbury and band recorded Expectativas in Texas. Introduced by Expectativas, a short film that captured segments from the recording process with an air of expressionism, the set was again uploaded track-for-track to YouTube and promptly topped the charts. For his efforts, Bunbury was greeted with sold-out dates across the Americas and Europe, and took home his first solo Latin Grammy for Rock Album of the Year. The artist and his label issued the 40th anniversaey box set Canciones: 1987-2017 a year later. In 2019, Bunbury issued California Live, documenting his entire career. 2020 saw the release of the adventurous and intimate studio outing Posible. Bunbury left behind his long assumed "cowboy-rock balladeer" persona and instead employed dissonant synths, angular electro, and ambient piano to decenter the identity of the narrator while retaining his signature anthemic hooks. The set was released at the end of May to positive reviews and debuted on the streaming charts in the top spot. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

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