I’ve never really given Shakira enough credit. She’s been in my life for ten years now, when she broke through in the UK with the huge hit “Whenever wherever” in 2002. Since then, instead of fizzling out like other artists of the time, she’s regularly come back with semi-success every few years, notably enduring smash “Hips don’t lie” that spent several weeks at No.1 here, and smaller but no less fondly-remembered hits like “She-Wolf”. But what about albums? A Latin artist such as Shakira always makes me think she shifts a lot of units worldwide, but I’ve never had her down as a big album seller (though she really is)
So why not go through her first English-language album, and her biggest to date? Better late than never. By the way, I was astonished just now to read that “Hips don’t lie” was the biggest selling song of the 00s, is that possible??
10 Objection (Tango) – Third UK single, and sadly underperforming for such a tour-de-force. It’s a bit of everything really, some 50s-soundng swing in there, some rampant percussion, and above all a strong Latin feel. It’s straight-to-the-point and has a good sense of humour behind it, not mincing her words there (“I love you for free and I’m NOT your MOTHER”). It’s just got such a great energy, and a ridiculous video to boot, well worth a look. A fantastic display of how much fun this woman can be. That breakdown really is pretty wonderful stuff.
09 Underneath your clothes – Going backwards now to the second single, and a softly-spoken acoustic ballad. It doesn’t come over as boring at all, though it’s a pretty traditional affair. Her vocals are very strange (as per normal), but it just lends character to the song rather than distracting or highlighting the flaws (at least not as negative aspects). I could easily imagine this being really dull in the hands of a safer artist. The chorus is sweet and memorable, and the overall tone is warm and welcoming. A great contrast to the manic panics either side of this in the tracklist.
10 Whenever wherever – This is the biggie, the breakthrough smash that signalled the next step in the Latin invasion of the early 00s, after the J.Los and Ricky Martins had gone more mainstream. No compromises here, it’s all pan-pipes and Chilean hill people instruments. They really hit the tone well with the video too: exotic, expensive and still authentic. It didn’t feel like “oh pan-pipes, we haven’t done that one yet, let’s do a song”. The chorus is instant and amazing, and the verses are now the thing of legend, notably the one about breasts and mountains. That certainly got a lot of peoples’ attention. Amazing song.
07 Rules – After such a perfect trio of singles, the only place to go was down really, but luckily the drop isn’t too painful. Like a slower happier relative of Objection, but I’m not quite feeling it. It’s a pleasant enough listen, don’t get me wrong. The idea of the rules of the relationship have been done before though, it feels a bit more like one of the naffer moments of an Alanis album. Aside from a few strange choices of phrase (“don’t forget that you’re condemned to me”), it’s simple enough but doesn’t measure up to its predecessors.
08 The One – Let’s just hold out for one more single, one I don’t think was released in the UK ultimately though considering the impact of the successive singles on the album, I wonder why they didn’t give it a go. I did see this several times on MTV in South Africa, so it brings back nice memories. This one feels like a more upbeat cousin of Underneath your clothes (not saying that with this and “Rules” that there’s a pattern forming…). It’s a nice chorus, a bit more life to it than Underneath your clothes. It’s got a simple but winning structure, with a nice breakdown before the final act. Not reinventing the wheel, but a memorable and lovely song.
07 Ready for the good times – Hmm, time for a bit of disco. Can’t say I was expecting that really, but it keeps the guitary sound of the album so it’s not too strange. The chorus doesn’t do a lot for me, not a particularly catchy melody, but the song’s good all the same. Feels more like a Metro Mix of a song rather than the thing itself. It’s good to have some variety, and the tempo is infectious, so I can’t complain really.
06 Fool – Now this is a bit more of a lumbering MOR track, but I see it appealing as a crossover to fans of Country perhaps. She’s cheesed off at some idiot guy, but sounds more tired than anything else, considering we’ve seen her when she means business. The affected vocals do grate a bit on me here, and the chorus isn’t anything to write home about. I’m eyeing the “Skip” button…
07 Te Dejo Madrid – Another dancier effort, this time in Spanish. She sounds understandably more comfortable singing in her native tongue, and the track sounds better for it. That chorus works well, melodic but a little too brief. Can’t really comment on the subject matter, not knowing Spanish, but it’s got some nice life to it. Not really that dancy after all, but a well-executed uptempo.
07 Poem to a horse – Well you are looking for attention with titles like that aren’t you? Her lyrics are quirky (what a cliche word to use), but not to the extent I expected. The title seems to be about the futility about loving a particularly useless person, and that trying to make a connection is as rewarding as reading poetry to a horse. Not the first parallel I’d think about drawing, but that’s just me. It’s got a simmering annoyance under it all, which comes across well, and the melody is tough but well-performed. A memorable moment in an album always in danger of sinking into MOR quagmire.
06 Que me Quedes Tu – This really reminds me of something, is it a Kaiser Chiefs song I’m thinking of? Another Spanish moment, and a bit of a meandering first verse that does little to hold my attention musically. The lyrics might be amazing, but I’m not the person to ask. Quite an old-fashioned chorus, and while her voice is still listenable and pleasant, there’s not much of a hook there for me. A bit of a snoozer.
08 Eyes like yours (Ojos asi) – A high note to go out on though, with a curiously Middle Eastern-sounding uptempo (at least to my ears). Chock-full of traditional instrumentation, and hypnotic vocals. The backing has a nice climactic feel to it, a good scene-setter. The chorus is done pretty quickly, but I like that chanting in the bridge, and pacey but comfortable tempo. An interesting one to go out on, even if it gets a little repetitive near the end.
Well that wasn’t really all that bad. Certainly wouldn’t put me off trying out one of her few later English albums as a next step, so that’s a mission accomplished really isn’t it? It never quite lives up to that formidable opening salvo of singles, but they really are brilliant moments of pop history. I know guitar-based acoustic/midtempo stuff no doubt works better in the Americas better than it probably would in the UK (at least coming from a mainstream pop artist), but it wasn’t totally lost on me. An intriguing lady, but I think I’ll need a little more convincing before I could totally appreciate her as an album artist.
Keepers for the iPod: Objection (Tango), Underneath your clothes, Whenever wherever, The One