Spain's Enrique Bunbury is among the most iconic singer/songwriters to emerge from the 20th century rock & roll era and one of the true fathers of rock en español. He is an intense, questioning, mercurial artist who has always followed a labyrinthine musical path that has astonished — and occasionally bewildered — fans, but has gained him legions of them across Latin America, Mexico, Europe, and the United States. Bunbury is capable of using an authoritative command of Middle Eastern, cabaret, ranchera, blues, flamenco, tango, salsa, milonga, bolero, cumbia, electro, roots and garage rock, heavy metal, and even electro musics to get his songs across.
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. Héroes del Silencio was one of rock en español's architect bands; it provided Bunbury with ideals that would guide him throughout his career: first was the melding his wide range of rock, pop, classical, folk, and Gypsy influences in a manner that would underscore — 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. The band began to shift their sound to rock & roll with the (now triple-platinum) classic Senderos de Traición in 1990. The band 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. Paired with an electrifying live show, each of the band's recordings subsequent to their 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 made 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 called 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. The artist was undaunted. In 1999, he challenged his audience yet again on Pequeño. Bunbury reinvented himself with a new band he called El Huracán Ambulante, which savored and fused his Arabic and Latin American roots. Songs like "Infinito" and "El Viento a Favor" opened doors to new audiences. Its emotional songs and the band's kinetic live show toured Spain, 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 more often than not sold-out affairs, and he received ample radio play and YouTube views, the charts were not yet forgiving. The year 2004 was hectic. 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, and 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 band 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, Bunbury reexamined 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 either's 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 manner, Bunbury 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, culminating 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 such 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; the album landed at number two.
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 that were never included on 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 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 together songs 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, as well as underground rockers Le Punk and Chus Rebel. In September of 2017, Bunbury announced the studio album Expectativas with a 12-minute film on its creation directed by iconic photographer (and his life partner) Jose Girl. As his first offering of original material in four years, Bunbury issued two video singles for the tracks "La Actitud Correcta" and "Parecemos Tontos" that showcased the album's tension between tough-edged rock en español and the more acoustic side of his persona from more recent years. Backed by Los Santos Inocentes, he self-produced the recording sessions in Los Angeles and Texas. Expectativas was issued in late October. ~ Thom Jurek