Shakira on paper shouldn’t work. To call her voice unusual would be an understatement. Her songs are just plain weird. Her musical style and influences vary wildly, and not just from album to album, but within albums as well. That’s not even mentioning her lyrics and half the time you don’t even know what she’s singing about, even when she’s singing in English. However, you don’t manage to have a music career spanning almost 25 years without having something special, and whatever that is, Shakira has it in spades. The singer’s unique charm, instantly recognizable voice, and quirkiness allow her to carry off even the most plain of tracks, whilst her obvious love for all types of music allows her to pick and choose the styles which suit her.
The path to her tenth studio album hasn’t been the easiest. Even as far back as November 2011, Shakira announced that she was working on material for her new album, however her pregnancy and role on the talent show The Voice meant that the creative process was delayed somewhat. Shakira’s original lead single was planned to be “Dare (La La La)” (originally titled “Truth or Dare”), but in the end her record label RCA decided to opt for the Rihanna-assisted “Can’t Remember to Forget You”.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Shakira has chosen to experiment with a new ska-influenced sound, a style which hasn’t really been mainstream since No Doubt’s peak of popularity (and even they can’t pull it off any more, as evidenced by their flop comeback album Push and Shove in 2012). The song is slightly spoiled by Rihanna’s appearance. It’s not that Rihanna doesn’t do herself justice on the track, but the combination of the two pop divas is such a blatant commercial move by RCA, who were clearly trying to cash in on Rihanna’s bankable star power whilst simultaneously ensuring that Shakira had another smash lead single. It’s understandable why they chose to do this however, as it is not unknown for Shakira’s lead singles to flop disastrously: “Don’t Bother”, the lead single from Oral Fixation Vol. 2, bombed at a lowly 42 in the US and the project was only saved by the addition of the infectious “Hips Don’t Lie”.
Similarly, She Wolf failed to crack the top ten in the same market, so there is precedence for these desperate measures, especially taking into account her long absence from the music scene. But one listen to the Spanish version of the tracks “Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte” confirms that Shakira could have easily carried off the tune on her own. The track sounds immeasurably more organic, especially for music fans who are beginning to feel suffocated under the weight of EDM behemoths Calvin Harris and David Guetta. The single itself was literally assured global success and while it hasn’t been a hit of “Hips Don’t Lie” proportions, it managed to set the album up quite nicely to become Shakira’s highest peaking album on the Billboard charts, at two. Job done.
Disappointingly, commercial greed rears its ugly head again later on the album on the Dr. Luke-produced “Dare (La La La)”, which sees Shakira giving in to pop trends for the sake of a worldwide smash. The song is obvious single and the World Cup version, which can be found on the deluxe edition of the album, is a blatant attempt to repeat the success of “Waka Waka”. Nevertheless, it does feel like the big single she needs to return to the top after the tepid commercial performance of “Can’t Remember to Forget You”.
However, it’s not all bad news and there is plenty of Shakira’s signature attitude to be enjoyed later on the album, despite the variation of styles. The country ballad “Medicine” sees Shakira warbling over folk guitars with fellow The Voice judge Blake Shelton. It’s a strange move, but Shakira somehow manages to pull it off with the two voices blending beautifully in a way which nobody could have predicted. Similarly, on “Cut Me Deep” and “You Don’t Care About Me”, Shakira proves that the ska formula employed on “Can’t Remember to Forget You” has a more than one song shelf life. “You Don’t Care About Me” is a sassy kiss off to former boyfriend Antonio de la Rua, who tried to sue the singer for $100 million, with lyrical themes reminiscent of 2005’s “Don’t Bother”, whilst “Cut Me Deep” sees the Colombian channeling Damien Marley. Scorn never sounded so good.
“Spotlight” and “Empire” are the rockiest tracks here and might even surprise a few people. The stomping bombastic “Empire” sees Shakira going back to her rock roots and “Spotlight” is a throwback to early Avril Lavigne or Kelly Clarkson. In the hands of either of these artists would have probably been a massive hit, even with the lyric “Lazy for a while / Laying golden eggs.”
This is also Shakira’s most mature album to date, containing a surprisingly amount of ballads. Motherhood seems to have brought out Shakira’s soft side on the charming “23”, an ode to her boyfriend Gerard Pique, and on the heartfelt “Loca por Ti”,a translated version of Pique’s favourite Catalan song, “Boig per Tu” by Sau. It’s clear that Shakira is loved up with her beau Gerard Pique and her newly born baby Milan.
All in all, Shakira manages to show the singer’s versatility and reconfirm her status as a pop force to be reckoned with. It’s a shame that she feels she has to bow to record company pressure, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty to enjoy on Shakira and the variation of styles means that the album is never boring.
// Notes from the Road
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