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Señor Coconut

Fiesta Songs (Emperor Norton)

"Riders on the Storm," merengue-style? "Smoke on the Water" as a cha-cha? Have you had one too many mojitos, or can classic rock and Caribbean rhythms coexist?

They can if German electronica producer Uwe Schmidt has anything to do with it. His maraca-shaking alter ego Señor Coconut is a willful soul whose El Baile Aleman, a Latin regurgitation of Kraftwerk classics, was the most arbitrary -- and in some ways the most awesome -- release of 2000.

Now, Fiesta Songs sets itself an even more challenging task: Coconut tries to resuscitate the battle-scarred warhorses of American and British pop. He also takes on Sade's "Smooth Operator" and Elton John's "Blue Eyes." You should turn away before you become a pillar of salt, but don't -- these reinventions are great. "Blue Eyes" fares best with a delicious, humid lounge atmosphere.

Furthermore, the original tracks scattered throughout Fiesta are just as good, if not better. Schmidt mingles programming and live players so well you can't tell what's "real" and what's not, unless he decides to show you. Near the end of "Negra Mi Chachacha," the instruments peel back and the vocals sink into electronic fuzz, leaving just a few skeletal blips and bleeps. Then the instruments return and the song finishes nonchalantly. It's as if a doctor peeled off someone's skin and revealed the machine beneath, then covered it back up. It's such a brilliant moment that it alone justifies picking this up.

Need another reason? Michael Jackson's "Beat It," merengue-style. The kids will be screaming for it.

 
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