There’s much to like about diminutive Columbian singer Shakira (Isabel Mebarak Ripoll), best known to this day for 2001’s breakthrough Whenever, Wherever and her global hit of 2006, Hips Don’t Lie. As beyond these chart-conquering smashes she’s often explored some truly mind-boggling pop territories, deep-drilling for veins of inspiration absolutely alien to so many of her peers.
She Wolf is Shakira’s third English language album, though it features plenty of free-flowing Spanish vocal work, too. Años Luz is a firecracker affair, rattling military percussion underpinning some urgently delivered lyrics, and the synth throb at Loba’s heart is reminiscent of Timbaland’s cutting-edge backings for Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado.
The aforementioned brace are, actually, translations (or originals, if you prefer) of English efforts: Why Wait and the title track respectively. While there’s perhaps a greater sense of passion in songs playing out in her native tongue, Shakira’s appealing tenacity for grappling with the hugest of hooks isn’t tempered at all when she switches to English.
She Wolf – the album’s opening track and lead single – is the kind of stone cold classic of the pop world that comes along only once in several full moons. “I’m starting to feel just a little abused / like a coffee machine in an office,” she sings, and while the lyrics would sound ridiculous in the mouths of, say, The Saturdays, here they’re a clarion call for rescue. Not that our protagonist needs any help: she might not literally be morphing into a werewolf, but this neglected lover is going to get her claws into her cold other half one way or another.
But the darkness that creeps in from the edges of this record is always kept at bay by playful and inventive instrumentation and quirky wordplay from the singer, at her best when making like Mariah Carey after a quarter-bottle of tequila and a weekend lost in the rainforest: you sense she could hit the highest of notes if she wanted, but a deliberate weariness keeps her histrionics in check. And with the classy Rihanna-echoing Did It Again, the staccato Latino strains of Good Stuff and the punchy Wyclef Jean duet Spy – featuring weird baby babbling/Roísín Murphy-style vocals – on her side here, one can conclude She Wolf is perhaps the most enjoyably varied pop album of 2009. --Mike Diver
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