Argentine rock legend Gustavo Cerati is a towering figure in popular Latin music. He was the frontman of Soda Stereo, the most influential rock en español band of the '80s and early '90s — arguably of all time — and he went on to mount a compelling solo career that only furthered his mystique. Chiefly a guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, and producer, though graced with additional musical abilities, Cerati likely will always be most revered for his work with Soda Stereo. The trio formed in the early '80s and steadily rose to dizzying heights of popularity throughout Latin America. Their frequent concert tours filled stadiums and arenas from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles, and when the band finally called it quits in 1997 with a grand farewell tour, Latin music suffered a significant loss. Without question, there was no rock en español band the scale of Soda Stereo, and so it was with both hopefulness and apprehension that fans awaited Cerati's debut as a solo artist.
Granted, he'd released a solo album during Soda Stereo's early-'90s hiatus, Amor Amarillo (1994), but it was no preparation for what he himself considered his official solo debut, Bocanada (1999). An intensely ambitious album incorporating guitar rock, electronica, and orchestral arrangements, Bocanada was a prodigious undertaking, one that earned Cerati both acclaim and scorn — acclaim from those who saw it as a masterstroke, and scorn from those who disdained his increasingly evident artistic pretensions, furthermore holding his whimsical nature responsible for the dissolution of Soda Stereo. Nevertheless, Cerati refused to curb his ambitions, releasing a trio of albums in 2002 that explored various stylistic avenues: + Bien, an ambient film soundtrack; 11 Episodios Sinfónicos, an orchestral concert performance; and Siempre Es Hoy, an electronic rock album. However, just when it seemed as though Cerati's experimentation had alienated an ever-growing segment of his audience, he returned to his roots in 2006 with Ahí Vamos, a surging guitar rock album that was showered with praise from all corners and promptly ushered him back into the Latin music mainstream.
Born August 11, 1959, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Gustavo Adrián Cerati Clark was musically influenced early in his life by classic rock artists such as the Beatles, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and Led Zeppelin. In 1982, he formed Soda Stereo with Zeta Bosio (bass; born Héctor Bosio) and Charly Alberti (drums; born Carlos Ficcichia); Cerati played guitar, sang lead vocals, and was the band's primary songwriter. Influenced by the new wave of the day, including such acts as Elvis Costello, XTC, and especially the Police, Soda Stereo worked the underground rock circuit of Buenos Aires for a couple years, recording some demos and playing at bars. Keep in mind that all of this was happening around the time that Raúl Alfonsín was elected president of Argentina in 1983, thereby bringing to an end the traumatic military rule that had plagued the country for almost a decade and consequently bringing about an exciting atmosphere of freedom and hope for a brighter future. In August 1983, Soda Stereo signed to CBS Records, which released the band's eponymous debut album the following year. Produced by Federico Moura, the lead vocalist of the renowned Argentine rock band Virus, Soda Stereo (1984) showcased the band's new wave influences well, as songs such as "¿Por Que No Puedo Ser del Jet Set?" incorporated a heavy dose of ska, in addition to rock and pop.
Soda Stereo returned the following year with their breakthrough album, Nada Personal (1985), which featured a much more developed, increasingly distinct style of music. The album boasted a significant hit, "Cuando Pase el Temblor," and garnered a lot of adoration for the band throughout Argentina, notably among critics. And if Nada Personal established Soda Stereo nationally, their following album, Signos, established them internationally, specifically in the neighboring countries of South America. Signos continued the musical development that had been well evident on Nada Personal, including contributions from Fabián Von Quintiero (keyboards), Richard Coleman (guitar), and Celsa Mel Gowland (vocals). These outside contributions helped facilitate a bigger sound for the band, that is, a stadium-sized sound à la U2, which made their concerts monumental experiences, as documented on Ruido Blanco (1987), a live album recorded during the supporting tour for Signos, comprised of performances in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela.
Now the most popular and arguably most important rock band in Latin America, Soda Stereo traveled to New York City to record their next album, Doble Vida (1988). They worked there with Carlos Alomar, best known as David Bowie's guitarist throughout the mid- to late '70s, a fruitful time period that includes such classic albums as Station to Station (1976), Low (1977), and Heroes (1977). Alomar, a Puerto Rican, is less well known for his session work, which by this point in time included collaborations with Iggy Pop, Paul McCartney, and the Pretenders. Quickly selling over a million copies, Doble Vida spawned a number of hits, including "Lo Que Sangra (La Cúpula)," "Corazón Delator," and "En la Ciudad de la Furia," and maintained Soda Stereo's massive following throughout Latin America. The band performed some fittingly massive concerts around this time, notably before an audience of 25,000 people at El Estadio Obras Sanitarias in Buenos Aires and also before an audience of 150,000 people at El Festival Tres Días por la Democracia. Moreover, Soda Stereo toured throughout Argentina, playing roughly 30 shows before an estimated 270,000 people total, and they then toured Latin America before culminating their road show in December 1989 with two performances at the Palace in Los Angeles. That same year they also released an EP, Languis, which included a new song, "Mundo de Quimeras," in addition to new versions of three songs from Doble Vida.
Soda Stereo returned to the studio in 1990 following their whirlwind tour of the Americas, and the result, released later in the year, was Canción Animal, widely cited as their greatest album. It was conceived with the input of Daniel Melero, Andrea Alvarez, and Tweety González, all of whom were major Argentine rock figures of the time, and the decision was made to record an album that would be rawer and more guitar-driven than the heavily produced — some would say, over-produced — Doble Vida. Needless to say, Canción Animal was a hit, boasting what would become the band's signature song, "De Musica Ligera," and a tour, titled Gira Animal, ensued, taking them all the way to Europe. An EP of mostly remixes, Rex Mix (1991), bought time in the marketplace while the band took a much-deserved rest. Cerati resurfaced in 1992, however, with an experimental electronica album he'd recorded with Melero, Colores Santos. Reception was mixed for the uneven album, which is perhaps most notable for the inclusion of "Tu Medicina," a song dedicated to Cerati's father, who had recently died. That same year, he married Chilean model Cecilia Amenábar, with whom he had two children, Lisa and Benito (the couple would later divorce in 2002). When Soda Stereo did regroup, they recorded Dynamo (1993), which they debuted over the course of six concerts at El Estadio Obras Sanitarias in September 1992, before embarking on their sixth tour of Latin America.
Soda Stereo's most adventurous album to date, Dynamo fared poorly. Longtime fans didn't appreciate the experimental aspects of the album, and the band's overall direction, increasingly driven by Melero, who not only contributed musically but was also co-writing the songs, seemed clearly questionable. And so it was perhaps unsurprising when the band took a break, with Cerati taking the time to record an album of his own. Amor Amarillo (1994), co-produced by Bosio, was a refreshingly straightforward guitar rock album, a stark contrast to Dynamo; whereas that album had been willfully challenging and often overwrought in its pretensions, this one was easily enjoyable and calm in its outlook. It features several highlights, yet perhaps most notable are the personal ones: "Lisa" is titled after Cerati's first child, whom he was expecting during the album's conception, and "Te Llevo Para Que Me Lleves" is a duet with his new wife, Cecilia — such intimacy is a world apart from the larger-than-life tenor of Soda Stereo. Moreover, there's a rare cover song here, "Bajan," originally performed by Argentine rock legend Luis Alberto Spinetta, whose son Dante was concurrently establishing himself musically as part of the popular rock-rap duo Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas.
Following his solo debut, Cerati regrouped with Soda Stereo to record what would be the band's last studio album, Sueño Stereo (1995). A humbler album than Dynamo, and consequently more commercially successful, shoring up the band's massive following in the process, Sueño Stereo was nonetheless ambitious in scope, certainly more so than the relatively easygoing Amor Amarillo had been. For instance, both Cerati and Bosio contributed electronics of various kinds, including samples, while studio musicians contributed viola, violin, cello, Rhodes piano, and trumpet. Hit singles mounted, namely "Paseando por Roma," "Zoom," and "Ella Usó Mi Cabeza Como un Revólver," and the band again hit the road, touring Latin America and then the United States. Amid all of the excitement surrounding Soda Stereo's comeback, the band filmed an MTV Unplugged performance that featured a memorable duet with Andrea Echeverri of Aterciopelados. Released as Comfort y Música Para Volar (1996), the album included outtakes from Sueño Stereo in addition to choice recordings from the MTV special. On May 1, 1997, the bandmembers held a press conference and announced that Soda Stereo would be breaking up for good following a farewell tour. Finally, on September 20, the band performed its final concert, a grand spectacle in Buenos Aires at El Estadio de River Plate before over 70,000 people. A pair of live albums, El Ultimo Concierto, Pt. A and Pt. B (1997), were issued as documents of this final tour, as was a two-disc best-of compilation, Chau Soda (1997). Numerous back-catalog releases followed in the years to come.
Before Cerati officially commenced his solo career, he toyed around for a while. First, he initiated a Spanish-language tribute album to the Police, Outlandos d'Americas (1998), that included participation from that band's guitarist, Andy Summers. Then he continued to explore his interest in electronica, forming a duo with Flavio Etcheto, Ocio, and releasing an album, Medida Universal (1999). It wasn't long, however, before he unveiled what he considered his official solo debut, Bocanada (1999). An intensely ambitious album incorporating guitar rock, electronica, orchestral arrangements, and even a slight conceptual bent in spots, Bocanada was a prodigious undertaking, albeit one that inevitably upset the more fickle segment of his Soda Stereo fan base, some of whom blamed his whimsy for the band's dissolution. Nevertheless, Bocanada is an undeniable masterstroke — baroque, certainly, yet poetic and beautiful, especially its opening third. Credited musicians on the album include Flavio Etcheto (keyboards), Leo García (vocals), Fernando Nalé (bass), Martín Carrizo (drums), and Alejandro Terán (orchestral arrangements). Critics praised Bocanada, and Cerati embarked on an international tour that took him all over Latin America as well as to the United States and Spain. Needless to say, his solo career was off to a dashing start.
After composing a soundtrack to a film in which he acted, Eduardo Capilla's experimental + Bien (2002), and performing a regal orchestral concert arranged by Alejandro Terán, released as 11 Episodios Sinfónicos (2002), Cerati released his official follow-up to Bocanada, Siempre Es Hoy (2002), at the end of a productive year. Bolder in its experimentation, Siempre Es Hoy abandoned the orchestral flourishes and the cool majesty of Bocanada for hard-hitting beats informed by co-producers Sacha Triujeque and Toy Hernández, resulting in a forward-looking style of electronic rock. Contributing musicians included Flavio Etcheto (electronics), Fernando Nalé (bass), Leandro Fresco (keyboards, vocals), Pedro Moscuzza (drums), and DJ Zucker (turntablism). Touring commenced around the time of the album's release, again stretching all the way through Latin America to the United States, and Cerati presented the album in March 2003 at El Estadio Luna Park in Buenos Aires, later presenting it again with three shows in September at El Teatro Gran Rex. Reversiones/Siempre Es Hoy (2003), a double-CD collection of various remixes, complemented the original album, and Canciones Elegidas 93-04 (2004), a CD/DVD retrospective compilation, capped off Cerati's on-and-off decade as a solo artist.
A long layoff built up palpable anticipation for Cerati's next album, Ahí Vamos (2006), which went platinum in Argentina before it was even released, based solely upon advance orders. Whereas Siempre Es Hoy had been boldly experimental and indulgent, sometimes to a fault, Ahí Vamos was intended to be a crowd-pleaser. It featured surging guitar rock à la Canción Animal-era Soda Stereo. The throwback approach was facilitated by involvement from a long list of past musical associates of Cerati, including Richard Coleman, Fernando Nalé, Leandro Fresco, Tweety González, Emmanuel Cauvet, Fernando Samalea, Pedro Moscuzza, Bolsa Gonzalez, Flavio Etcheto, and Capri. Moreover, Cerati employed studio legends Héctor Castillo and Howie Weinberg for engineering and mastering, respectively, thus giving the album a comfortable sheen. Ahí Vamos struck a chord with longtime fans, of course, as even those upset by Cerati's detours into electronica were brought back into the fold. Critics were similarly enthralled, and in turn, the album ended up winning a couple Latin Grammys (Best Rock Vocal Album; Best Rock Song, for "Crimen"). A long and winding tour commenced in June 2006 and carried on throughout the remainder of the year, as Cerati made all his usual stops throughout the Latin continuum and even performed in London for the first time.
Gustavo Cerati didn't wait too long to resume recording for another solo album, and Fuerza Natural appeared in September 2009. A stylistic detour, it was largely acoustic and captured a folkier side of Cerati. The album sold well in Argentina, as well as all over the world, and won a Latin Grammy for Best Rock Album. Its success for Cerati was marred by health problems, however. After a concert in Caracas in May 2010, Cerati had a stroke that left him with brain damage; he lingered in a coma for more than four years before passing in September 2014, robbing the music world of one of its greatest talents. ~ Jason Birchmeier