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.


Carlos Reyes said...

I found it terrible, I do like "She Wolf" and "Loba"...

I don't think she's all that great, but Fijacion Oral is pretty awesome, it really is. I don't think her other Spanish-language albums are great, well, her MTV unplugged is good but the other two are kinda dull.

el amarillo said...

Her Spanish records are great, even Fijación oral. I tried to listen to "she wolf" (what a shitty name) but I could not help ignoring it. The Neptunes, I hate every single thing they produce since I heard a song called "she's sexy" I can't explain my disgust!

if the Spanish version (loba, que nombre tan estupido) is going to be like this I better stay away until her next release, which is easy cuz' I’m not her biggest fan.



Creo que Shakira se perdió varios años. Timbaland y The Neptunes ya son gente OUT. Concuerdo más con Andrew que con Carlos, sus albumes en español ROCKS!! said...

La verdad es que no eh escuchado todo el album nuevo de SHE WOLF pero las 2 canciones que ah sacado con video, me encanta la musica!!!!...alomejor la letra no es la mejor...pero admiro a shakira puede uno ser siempre al final del dia es humano, y es lo que mas mas me gusta de ella.

Carla Morrison.

Carlos Reyes said...

Shakira no es humana.

Jean-Stephane Beriot said...

I've always felt Shakira is underrated, she needs to stop making English language albums, they're so uninspired. This one is her worst yet, a disaster!

I like Donde Estan Los Ladrones, hate Piez Descalzos, find her MTV Unplugged very boring, and liked both Fixations (Fijacion Oral more of course).

She's no Prince, Morrissey, Michael Jackson or any of Andrew's personal statements (which I respect of course), she's our Beyonce.

But yeah, people should realize Shakira is better than 80% of Latin American rock bands, pop is so taken for granted in our countries, wake up people!

Andrew Casillas said...

I'll take Beyonce as a valid least with regards to her singles. I just reference Morrissey for the overly romanticized lyrical content, and Prince for the eclecticism and erotic nature of her music.

It's a shame though that people don't take her as serious as they should just because they don't like her big singles or dismiss her because of her looks. It's more than obvious that Shakira is not controlled like so many other Svengali-led pop stars; she's just a pop musician who happens to be pretty, and uses the opportunities that her looks provide her.

That being said, I'd hate for her to stop making music in English. She needs to. She's the only Latin artist who gets credibility from Anglo critics that doesn't dismiss her Spanish listeners entirely. If she were to stop making crossover albums, there'd be a lot less opportunities for other Latin pop stars. I mean, how many other Latin singers would get to play SNL if she were to stop singing in English right now??

el amarillo said...

Just tell me who receives something from her crossover??? Paulina? thalia? maná?

Wake up people!!!
Shakira no es humana!!!


Prefiero a Shakira que a Thalia bailando "Amor a la mexicana" con Obama, Andrew tiene razón..if she's not, who'd be?

CHENN said...

Someone just took it too tooo tooo far...with the Morrisey and Prince comparisons..

Shakira its just something that her record label gave to us as a "moco" que se nos metera en el cerebro por los proximos meses que la escucharemos en la radio o en la television..

Couple years back she surprised us with that video with Saenz, all covered up in wax or whatever it was..dancing sexy/crazy

Now she has a new dance, twisting her ass and dancing like a breaker..

After this album, shes going to come up with some other crazy dance that will captivate

I mean its ok that she always changes her ways..But thats all...

Where does her music go after that? Its just trashy pop music like 90% of what is really out there..

It seems like just pop music nowadays has a limited space for exploration

(my humble opinion)

Steph said...

I agree with Andrew, you make a strong case, Sir! Gosh I love this blog. I'll enjoy almost anything Shakira does (apart from Beautiful Liar)but I agree this album is wasted opportunity. I have high hopes for the spanish companion album.

Deo Ingus said...

wait... i thought she has a collabo- w/ calle trece in this album. no? anyway i'm not looking forward for this one then. oh well, i wasn't expecting much after hearing shewolf as the first single and i can sleep well knowing that julieta venegas is coming out with a new stuff next year.

but knowing shaki, she probably will do good in her next album as a corrective for this one. The same way that 'oral' albums were a huge corrective for her not-so-good laundry service.

relax people she'll be back...

Anonymous said...

Interestingly ,The Latin Academy of Recording Arts indirectly agree with
you guys that Shakira's Loba is not a good song; she was not nominated for the upcoming Latin Grammy's.
As I told Carlos previously, The Latin Grammy's love Shakira so much that included song Loba in the prenom ballot even though that this song was released after the eligibility poeriod of June 30th.Whether the Academy finally realized the song was not a valid one for this year's LGs and was internally disqualified or was not selected by the voting members is unknown. I would favor it was voted against.

Juan Data said...

Shakira is my not-so guilty pleasure. In English she sucks, but in Spanish she can write way better lyrics than any other Latina chanteuse out there.


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