She Wolf, Shakira

Sony, Colombia
Rating: 55
by Andrew Casillas

I guess I should start by saying that I’m one of Shakira’s most ardent supporters in the music-crit community. Her faux-poetry is capable of reaching grand, vivid expressions of romantic imagery. Her voice, while understandably grating for some, is one of the most distinctive and well-utilized tools in modern pop music. Her music is as eclectic as any Latin pop star this side of Café Tacuba’s Re. To me, she’s essentially Morrissey with a Prince fetish.

But that’s just in reference to her Spanish-language records, which are all varying levels of excellent. Since Shakira became the great lasting Latin pop star hope in 2001’s Laundry Service, there’s been a seemingly never-ending debate about to what degree her music has “suffered” since the transition to English. Some people love her awkward attempts at sarcastic quips (“I hope you don’t confuse my breasts for mountains,” etc.), some people think her music has suffered from “Anglo-ization,” others just don’t care as long as her music videos maintain the same level of, um, excellence.

But we’re not here to debate this (that’s what the comments section is for, folks). We’re here to discuss her new “crossover” album, She Wolf. Specifically, what a disappointment it is. It’s with a heavy heart that I report that this is Shakira’s least-inspired English-language album to date. The problems, you could say, start from the top, with the title track. I’m not usually the type of person to dismiss a song for its lyrical content, I’ve gotta say that the lyrics of this track completely derail any attempts at taking the song seriously (although “I'm starting to feel just a little abused/like a coffee machine in an office” is admittedly somewhat awesome). While it’s Spanish-language counterpart “Loba” (included here as a bonus track) is a whirlwind of sound coupled angry sexual politics, exemplified by the double-meaning of the title in her native tongue, the lyrics of “She Wolf” are merely clunky and gawky, like at 7th grader’s first attempt at poetry. I guess some of the credit/blame could be passed off to the song’s respective songwriters, Jorge Drexler for “Loba” and the guy from the Bravery for “She Wolf,” but Shakira’s too smart to let someone else take too much control of her music.

In fact, it’s her approach to collaborations that seems to submarine her attempts at improving her sound. While previously, she let Emilio Estefan, Gustavo Cerati, and Rick Rubin stay in the background as quality control men of sort, this time she allows John Hill, the Neptunes, and Wyclef Jean run rampant all over the record. What results is the loss of the “Shakira-ness” that makes her music distinctive. Listen to the Neptunes “Why Wait,” which has the Middle Eastern elements that Shakira has always deftly infused into many of her better songs, but are made bland by generic synthesizers. Or how “Good Stuff” tries too hard to sound like Crystal Castles with a club beat, when it could easily be a slice of Javiera Mena-like casual electro pop. And that’s not even mentioning the quickly forgettable and rudimentary “Men in this Town” or “Gypsy.” Oh, and as for the Wyclef-assisted “Spy,” I recommend just deleting that song from your iTunes as soon as you upload this record.

Luckily, Shakira always provides one nugget of hope on every one of her English albums. This time, it’s “Mon Amour,” a delicious little rocker that closes the English part of the album. Like previous standouts “Objection (Tango)” and “Timor,” this track is full of bite and vigor as Shakira portrays the “betrayed and pissed-off lover” persona to perfection. Lily Allen would kill for a song like this.

Overall, this isn’t a completely gawd-awful record; just a huge disappointment. Regardless of your personal feelings about her music, Shakira is an important figure in Latin pop’s evolution towards general acceptance, and we hope that she makes a record as essential and powerful as any of her Spanish records so the population-at-large can appreciate the treasure that we’ve all known for years. And while this sadly won’t be that elusive great English recording, it’s great to think that we have musicians like her in the first place, and that she even has this opportunity to begin with.