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Shakira – She Wolf

on November 19, 2009, 3:15pm
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It’s been nearly nine years since Shakira made the transition from Colombian sensation to worldwide star with the release of Laundry Service, her first English album. The move also saw her channeling more conventional pop inspirations than her Spanish albums, and even sporting a new blond hairdo. These moves made her more accessible to broader—and by broader I mean North American—audiences, but, in them, she lost some of her charm.

In her two follow-up albums, she continued to make irresistible pop music, but always sounded as if she was trying on someone else’s style. Her forays into R&B were good, but she could do better. Sure, the way she integrated Latin rhythms into her English tunes was fresh, but she wasn’t living up to her potential. The Spanish work she continued to put out during this period always sounded more interesting, but even that wasn’t as good as she could produce. For her latest release, She Wolf, Shakira goes even further from her roots and wanders into electronic-influenced pop, but by doing so she actually sounds more like herself than she has in a while.

Let’s get one thing straight: On some level, Shakira can’t help but sound like Shakira, no matter what she does. She is pop music’s Christopher Walken. Try as they might, they will always be themselves. Fortunately, Shakira’s charm makes this detour into quirkier music all the more enjoyable. The highly publicized first single and title track uses swirling synths that you probably heard in European clubs 15 years ago. Her voice is so soft it’s almost inaudible at times—until she literally howls in the chorus. It’s absurd and campy, and if you can get on board with it, you’ve found the right album. She gets major points for working the word “lycanthropy” into a dance song with such ease.

“She Wolf” also serves as a good template for the album because many of these songs cull the best qualities of other pop experts. It’s not derivative in a bad way, and it’s not exactly sampling. The drum loops and percussion in “Why Wait” are an addictive hybrid between Kelis’ “Milkshake” and Britney Spears’ “Gimme More”. And, as expected, Shakira’s talking about sex – fun, irresistible, and possibly weird sex. At one point she says she’s so happy she should get sued. By whom and for what? Not sure. You can’t help but wonder if this isn’t her answer to Of Montreal’s sex odyssey Skeletal Lamping. The line “I wish I had longer legs that I could fasten to your body so you’d take me with you everywhere” could be a Kevin Barnes line if only it had some reference to a philosopher in it.

That’s the thing about She Wolf. It’s just fun, and musically it mimics some of the great pop music that isn’t getting as much love as it should. Once you get over the fact that she name-drops Matt Damon in the opening lines, “Men in This Town” could be sung by Norwegian pop aficionado Annie. Shakira’s collaboration with Wyclef Jean on “Spy” has a mix of sultry and playful that wouldn’t be out of place on Róisín Murphy’s Overpowered.

“Good Stuff” is the only sore spot of She Wolf. Shakira has made this song before… several times, in fact. Drawing upon influences of other artists is acceptable; being derivative of yourself is not. On the other hand, the decision to close the album with Spanish versions of “She Wolf”, “Did It Again”, and “Why Wait” was a smart one. First, they’re three of the album’s strongest tracks, so if you’re going to repeat yourself, choose good songs. Second, the tracks feel like fresh incarnations and not retreads. Perhaps the lyrics just flow better in Spanish and they compliment the music better. For whatever reason, these versions are the perfect way to end the album.

While Shakira might not have given us an album as cerebral as something Of Montreal or Róisín Murphy would, she did create a record with just as much confidence. When she’s not flicking her tongue at us in an effort to draw us into her lair, she’s planting it firmly in cheek. You don’t think for one note that she’s trying to speak to any issue other than her libido, and she creates a world where not only is this acceptable, but it makes perfect sense. When so many pop acts try to infuse their otherwise fun albums with some message, whether it be political or social, an album that sets out to be fun and achieves it with no detour is welcome. She Wolf accomplishes its goals and gets stuck in your head along the way.

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