Posts Tagged ‘criticism’

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mean / Tube update: Queensway and Bayswater.

February 7, 2012

I have been really irritable lately. On Friday evening we were at Toby’s flat and Christina was cleaning the kitchen and mopping the floor. I don’t know what possessed me, but I decided to go “See Toby, this is called ‘mopping’.” A few minutes later I realised that while Toby is indeed messy, there was no call for me to just criticise him out of the blue.

During my cooking of the lasagne on Tuesday, I kept my cool with the very frustrating ingredients and recipe for about 45 minutes before I snapped, started ranting about crushing garlic on Twitter and went for a cigarette. Now, although I can be somewhat impetuous, I know that I dislike cooking and I also know that I am not experienced and so things are likely to be frustrating – I should have had a bit more patience than that.

Then at the weekend, we went out to Soho for Christina’s birthday. We had a lovely meal at Ping Pong, but afterwards we were trekking through the snow for an hour trying to find our next venue. I was cold and wet, people were throwing snowballs in the streets and I got hit twice (which I think was really uncalled for, since I had not done anything to anyone), we lost half of our party, went into a random club which was full of people – and only 10 minutes later, just after I had put my bag down and taken my soaking coat off,  everyone decided that we were going to leave again and go somewhere else. But first everyone went to get cash. This was the breaking point for me and I told Toby that I could no longer handle all of this and wanted to just go home. With the snow, the crowds of people stranded in central London also trying to get home, and the tube stations and tube lines shutting down one by one, we had to walk in the snow, slush and crowds for 45 minutes before finally getting to Temple where we caught the District Line train back to Earls Court. We left Ping Pong at 9:30; we got back to my flat at midnight. I was thoroughly unimpressed.

And yet, I felt guilty. Although even writing this and reliving it as I do so, I feel justified in just wanting to get out of the situation and get home, I also feel mean for leaving Christina’s birthday early. I didn’t want to, but I also just couldn’t handle being out and cold and wet, wandering aimlessly and having snow thrown at me, and not being able to go home. But on balance, I had helped make her birthday cake (I rescued ganache, using the power of the internet!):

…wrote her card, was out last night for the restaurant-portion of the evening, and saw her again the following morning, so I had made an effort for her and things were all fine. But still, I don’t know why but lately I just feel like I am irritable to people and not as nice as I could be. I had a meltdown on Sunday with Toby – I felt trapped in by the snow, powerless to accomplish anything useful, and spiralling into depression and feeling utterly useless. After much understanding from him, I saw that I was being too hard on myself. Well, what’s new?

Following the emotional surgery, I uncovered that a lot of my frustration is to do with work. I will not say much more about this because I feel it would be unprofessional (and you never know who might be reading), but suffice to say that it’s called ‘work’ for a reason. Toby suggested that one thing I could do is make sure I take a proper lunch break and get out of the office, have some fresh air and a walk. So I have started doing this in earnest: and on Monday, I had a walk (trying not to fall over in the slush) and managed to add another two tube stations to my list: Queensway and Bayswater (after my initial failure when I walked to Paddington).

I worked out that I should also be able to walk to Lancaster Gate, Latimer Road and Royal Oak, so watch this space! I am hoping that not only will I get some additional exercise (and pictures!), but it will improve my mood (both daily and in the longer term). Fingers crossed 🙂

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criticism.

May 13, 2011

So a couple of weeks ago, E (with whom I do a car share for work, alongside two others) gave me a lift halfway home along with another member of staff, H, who normally doesn’t travel with us – however, they were all attending an event in Bristol so we were all travelling together. The first thing that H says to me upon meeting to get in E’s car is “So Alan, how is your lead foot?” I was a bit taken aback, but just smiled and said “It’s all good!” However, this bothered me.

I am a new driver, and I drive at the speed limit, slightly over it on the motorway, but no more than anybody else. My car is small and quite low down (because it’s a cute sporty thing 😀 ) and I can appreciate that I have been getting the hang of slowing down to go around corners a little bit. But I’m getting a lot better. Now, it’s not the comment of having a “lead foot” that bothers me – I have not been caught speeding and in fact, rarely do speed – so it’s nonsense. What irritates me is the fact that E and other people seemingly have chosen to spend their free time criticising my driving.

In the past, I would have simply said “well I guess I just stay on their minds, which is a compliment.” Which is true. But I have noticed that lately everyone seems to be competing with one another for the prize of “being right”. If you mumble your words, there’s somebody there to make fun of it. If you don’t know where a famous landmark is, there is somebody there to not only tell you, but boast their superiority and make you feel small. I appreciate learning things I did not know from other people, but I don’t understand why being right is so important to some people. Nobody is right 100% of the time, and gain-saying others doesn’t make you a richer person. Life is too short – rather than making other people feel small to feel better about myself for an instant or so, I would prefer to work hard on my own life and reap the lasting benefits. Now, I’m not holier than thou – if I know the correct answer to something, it makes me feel proud and I am not afraid to express that. But not at the expense of others’ self-esteem or confidence. At the end of the day, I am my own worst critic and I would rather criticise myself to improve myself, than be hard on others to momentarily appease my own insecurities.

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reboot.

May 8, 2011

When I started this blog, I just envisioned it as a fun space to talk about my life and loves, where I could be honest and frank without fear of repercussion. I branched out into talking about music and doing reviews, which I have since reined in because while these posts were popular, I just haven’t felt inspired to write any new reviews lately. Toby suggested that I could create a separate blog for music, culture and fashion in the future, but as I’m writing less posts I didn’t think I could devote enough time to two separate blogs – I feel like I am neglecting this one as it is! (A new layout is long overdue 😉 ) The idea is good and one day I would love to, but right now I am focusing on my job, trying to find a new job in London, and my family and friends, visiting Toby in London (he came down to Bristol this weekend and we had such a lovely time 🙂 ) – I just haven’t got the time.

Since I got my new laptop in December, I transferred all of my content across to it from the old one, but I haven’t used Photo Booth in a long time. Yesterday, I opened the programme and started flicking through the old photos from last year. I haven’t realised, but I used to look better (not that I look drastically awful now, but I feel that I looked slightly slimmer, slightly fresher, slightly more fashionable) a year ago when I was doing the QCG at UWE. That year was such a good one for me – I made some lovely friends, I began to make inroads into the vocational sector I wanted to pursue, and I met two people who are instrumental to my evolution into the person I have become today – Mike, who is like a big brother to me and has given me so much confidence in myself, and Toby, whom at this point I can confidently say is the love of my life who loves me back.

I found my first proper full-time salaried job doing something I wanted to do, I finally passed my driving test and bought my first car, I got my first four (!) tattoos which more than declaring my inner edginess and free spirit, declare my new-found confidence in the person I am. And now that all these big events have passed, I’m just trying to keep everything going. I feel like I am on a treadmill paying for my car, trying and so far failing to pay off my debts, growing my professional experience and my CV whilst trying to find that elusive job in London, growing my relationship with Toby. And I seem to have barely any time for myself. I have put on a little bit of weight – not a drastic amount, but a few pounds that I would like to shift. I don’t like my hair (which has always been the case, but I feel that it’s fine but not pleasing) and I would like to do something interesting with it – I may well do in the summer, as I’m thinking of dyeing it black again and cutting the sides really short, and letting the top be longer and straighter. Straightening my hair is something I’m out of practice with, but the other night I decided to use my GHDs before I went to pick up Toby from Parkway station, and it felt refreshing and cleansing just to do something different with myself.

But it’s more than that. It is about devoting time to myself – not through comfort eating (which I recognise I have been doing in the evenings over the last few months), nor through my new budgeting spreadsheet (which is something I have to do, but not what I particularly want to do!). It’s about actively taking care of myself. After an initial run at an Abs Workout iPhone app, I decided I didn’t like the exercise schemes on it, so I have found a youtube abs workout by Laura London which I am doing 4-5 times a week. In this way, I can maintain my slim figure and hopefully drop those pesky few pounds. Which in turn, makes me feel good on the inside. I aim to straighten my hair more, and do more interesting things with my appearance once the summer holidays approach (so that I don’t make any faux pas in front of the 2000 odd teenagers at college – not the most forgiving audience!) – because doing this makes me feel good and is a symbol of me taking time for myself and being prepared to value myself and say “I am important”. It’s vanity, but it’s also so much more than vanity.

Through Toby’s love, and through the close friendships I enjoy, I have nurtured others and in turn nurtured myself. One reason I have slowed down on the reviews, which I hadn’t really thought about until very recently, is that I am tired of criticism. Both receiving unwarranted criticism (which I shall talk about in a forthcoming post), but also being expected to give criticism. I don’t like the fact that so much of society seems to thrive on putting others down in order to build ourselves up. Why do we feel that in order to give an opinion on an album, a film, an outfit, a friend, we have to find something negative? It’s one thing if the negative naturally occurs to us, but to me it seems crazy to actively search it out. So until I feel ready, I am going to leave the reviews. For now, I am working on myself.

Hence the title of this post, “reboot”. Something I have always done on this blog is write about my emotions truthfully, and connect them to what I’ve been going through. While these posts may not garner as many hits, it’s been cathartic for me to be able to reflect and grow, and the responses I do receive to those posts are the most gratifying. I am reading Janet Jackson’s new book True You, and while it may not be the most eloquent piece of literary writing, it is something I enjoy because to read someone else’s struggles, triumphs and insecurities allows me to connect with that person, and to reflect on my own. I am 25 years old, and for over half of my life I have been getting to know myself and trying to understand who I am. So in turn, by sharing my own thoughts and my own insecurities, I can start to embrace them and move past – and hopefully help you all not only to feel closer to me but to feel closer to who you are. I’m just like you, a human being – this is me, take it or leave it. But I hope that my own struggles and successes inspire you, and I also hope that you will also share yours with me because I would like to be inspired in kind! 🙂

I am rebooting my life a little bit – remembering that among the many other commitments in my life, I am important and valuable, and deserve some time and dedication. I am rebooting this blog a little bit, making sure that I find the strength and bravery to share the good and the bad with you, so that we know that we are not, that we are never alone, and that we can all grow and get past our insecurities, capitalise on our triumphs and find and nurture our happiness and our joy. I know that I sound a little bit bizarre right now, but it’s mainly because we’re not supposed to talk like this in society – it exposes our vulnerability and risks us getting hurt. Well, what I have found makes me feel better is knowing that I’m not alone – we need to be honest with one another and talk about all of these things! Otherwise we all just suffer in silence and alone. I have a good life, and I want it to be better; I want to nurture my own happiness and the happiness of those around me. I want to be able to look back on my life when I am old and say “I made mistakes and I had successes, but I always tried to do the right thing and I had a rich and full life.” If I can look back and say that, then I will be happy. That journey starts here and now. And in such a way, I am rebooting myself.

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Christina Aguilera – Bionic. (album review)

June 14, 2010

As you can tell from my current blog layout, I am very much feeling the imagery of Christina Aguilera’s current Bionic era.  It’s fierce, severe and pushes the envelope.  Artwork such as the front cover (above) and other graffiti-inspired cyborg manipulations handled by D*Face push the envelope and also serve to symbolise Christina as human machine which creates fine music hence “Bionic”.  Various analyses of this robotic imagery could be and have been made: on the one hand, Christina Aguilera in her superhuman form triumphs over all her competitors and makes superior , near-perfect music because she has this bionic element to her; on the other hand, as part-robot, Christina can only ever produce a facsimile of what music is supposed to be, while never quite getting close enough to the organic, human qualities in music that elevate it beyond the calculable – qualities which cannot be quantified or mechanised.  In Bionic, as in life, the truth lies somewhere between these two opinions.

Bionic the album is a long listen – 18 tracks in its standard version, 23 in its deluxe (with iTunes bonus track “Little Dreamer”, a likeable but throwaway confection, making a grand total of 24).  I’ll dispense with the additional 5 bonus tracks first: they are, by and large, bonus tracks for a reason: either they are not strong enough to be considered for the main album (“Monday Morning” is pleasant but lackadaisical; “Birds Of Prey” is lyrically mysterious and interesting, but musically and vocally it’s too much mainstream dance that Kelis would do a lot better with on her current Flesh Tone project), or they don’t fit thematically with the empowering / sexual / carefree / mature feel of the album.  “Bobblehead” is a thrilling production that stutters and races to its climax with the wonderful lyric: “I never play dumb to get what I want / and always come out the one that’s on top”; however, its main hook is a nonsensical mumble that may be the point of the lyrics, dissing idiot girls who dumb themselves down and preferring to deploy her own intelligence, but it’s still a nonsensical mumble which fails to use Christina’s vocals to much effect.  “Stronger Than Ever” is a ballad that is lyrically strong (and embodies my current struggle with my parents) and vocally able, but it just lacks that something.  “I Am (Stripped)” is a lovely album closer but is a more acoustic version of one of the main album tracks, and so it’s understandable why it’s relegated to bonus status.

So, to the main event. To my ear, Bionic moves in three arcs.  In its first, it goes for the jugular with relentless, futuristic uptempos; it then cools down into a sensuous, emotionally vulnerable, mature ballad section; finally, it picks up again for a closing triad of uptempo songs that epitomise fun.  While it’s possible that the album could be trimmed down to make a more concise, compelling listen, it flows very nicely throughout and only has a couple of stumbling points.  Christina Aguilera said that she wanted something which sounded futuristic, but with elements of the organic; something which integrated her new emotional maturity as a mother with her desire to remain playful and sexy.  On this point, she has succeeded: Bionic has elements of all of this.  Tracks such as “Bionic” and “Elastic Love” incorporate computerised effects to distort Christina’s voice, along with buzzing, whirring productions that sonically embody the bionic cyborg face of her album cover. However, on tracks such as standout “You Lost Me” and “All I Need”, Christina is stripped of the musical gloss of the faster tracks to be backed by little more than a piano.  “All I Need” is also a touching, mature tribute to her son, which nicely avoids being mawkish or saccharine like Britney Spears’ unlistenable “My Baby” from Circus.  Finally, sex is all over this album, and from the enticing “Woohoo” to the seductive “Sex For Breakfast” (which I have yet to play for my boyfriend, but when I next see him in July, I am using this song on him!), it’s explicit without being pornographic, edgy without crossing that line.  In this respect, the Christina Aguilera of “Dirrty” is still present, knowing how to be provocative while still being musically relevant.

However, in the video for “Not Myself Tonight”, Xtina makes her return and perhaps pushes the envelope a little too far.  S&M get-ups, Madonna tributes aplenty, and bisexual flirtations are almost par for the course at this point, and Christina Aguilera is more than entitled to use them considering her influence on current female artists in the mainstream over the past 10 years.*  However, although “Not Myself Tonight” is an understandable choice as Bionic‘s lead single considering its radio-friendly sound, it’s not futuristic and it’s not exciting enough to merit the edgy, sex-fuelled imagery.  Rather than hookless, it sounds like a bunch of hooks jostling together for attention over a dance beat (which has a couple of exciting tribal flourishes), the result of which means that sometimes the song sticks, on other listens it doesn’t quite get there.  A better first single might have been the thrilling, soaring title track, or uptempo album standout and follow-up single “Woohoo”, on which Xtina extols the virtues of good oral sex, recruits Nicki Minaj for a fine rap segment, uses her vagina (the titular “Woohoo!”) for a cowbell, and tops it off with a throbbing, buzzing dance break coda for good measure.  Along with “You Lost Me”, “Lift Me Up” and album closer “Vanity”, “Woohoo” is an album standout where all of Christina’s chemical ambitions for Bionic come together perfectly to produce some exemplary pop.

Bionic itself has no bad songs, but there is some filler: “Prima Donna” comes at the end of the first album arc of jugular-ripping uptempos, and is the weakest of them, with little lyrical know-how or production excitement to give it its own identity after the tracks preceding it.  “My Girls” is a ‘riding in the car with your top down’ sort of song, but comes off as fluffy compared to the album’s meatier offerings: although Christina proves (responding to criticisms that she oversings) that she can vocally restrain herself on songs such as “Elastic Love” with its amusing and witty stationery metaphors, and the tender “All I Need”, “My Girls” needs the vocal melisma to give it some spark; as it stands, it’s a little too laid back.  Nevertheless, 2 out of 18 songs (or 15, excluding interludes) is not bad and perhaps a better result than I was expecting.  Sure, several songs on the album are not immediate: “Glam” takes a few listens to hit its stride with its subtle, fibrillating beats and “Vogue”-esque spoken-word verses, while “Vanity” initially startles the listener with its unbridled use of the word “bitch”, references to Christina making herself “wetter” before marrying herself as her “lawfully wedded bitch” and effectively giving the finger to everyone who doesn’t have such bravado.  Only by the song’s end (and possibly a couple of repeat listens) does it sink in that the track is a storming highlight, a perfect album closer, utterly hilarious and ridiculous (and knowingly so), with a vocal flourish that knocks all competition to the floor before her son’s voice confirms all suspicions: his mother really is the shit.

At the end of the day, it’s this kind of confidence that makes Bionic a great success – Christina Aguilera believes that she rules the world, and this kind of ambition almost single-handedly propels her music to heady heights.  It’s a new page for Christina, and she’s secure enough in her ability to try different things: the mélange of styles is a little disorientating until repeated listens expose the subtleties and intricacies in her vocals, lyrics and the songs themselves.  “Lift Me Up” is another beautiful, soaring track that was slightly superior in its stripped down live version performed on the Haiti telethon, but still thrills within the album.  “I Am” is a declaration of humanity, imperfection and adulthood that lends substance to the polished sheen of Bionic‘s robotic side, deployed confidently, efficiently and effectively for example on clubsong “Desnúdate” (which neatly remembers and includes Christina’s Spanish-speaking audience and heritage).  If Christina experiments with textures in her voice, sometimes preferring subdued rumbles to soaring melismas, she still shows that she can do both better than most other female artists.  At the end of the day, Christina Aguilera is an musical artist with a personal and professional vision that she fulfils 85% of the time.  Her misfires are excusable and never in poor taste so much as merely a little bland or inconsistent – in time, Christina will learn to totally excise these from her projects.  Most importantly, while some of Bionic indeed caters to current mainstream tastes and is hardly an obscure sonic revelation, the majority of it is interesting and thrilling, and rings true as Christina Aguilera’s own personality and intention which doesn’t give a fuck about current radio trends (in my opinion, less than half of Bionic would get spins on mainstream radio).  For this, her sales might suffer, but her artistic integrity remains intact and hopefully the mainstream radio audiences and buying public one day will catch up.

* I’ll address this once and only once: anyone who thinks that Christina Aguilera is copying Lady GaGa is a) suffering from memory loss and should go back to Christina Aguilera’s last two album eras which were mired with controversy and blazed with exciting fashions and imagery, b) suffering from hearing loss as Christina can sing GaGa – and pretty much anyone else – under the table, c) has no respect for what Aguilera has achieved over the past 10 years – while GaGa has had a fantastic 2-year run and displays much potential (her music and videos are definitely getting more intriguing), she’s still only been around 2 years and more respect should be shown to anyone who successfully completes a decade in the music industry, and d) completely overlooking Gwen Stefani, whose hairstyle Christina mimics in her “Not Myself Tonight” video, and whose image, sound and career Lady GaGa has borrowed liberally from, mixed with a bunch of fashion designers, and passed off as her own to those too young, too unaware or too amnesiac to know any better.

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beautiful.

February 28, 2010

This song by Vivian Green is one of my new favourites at the moment.  It’s what real R&B is (not this dance/pop/Timbaland hybrid nonsense), about self-esteem, relationships and beauty.  Her voice is lovely on the song, and the lyrics are so poignant.  It’s inspired me to write this blog, because over the last 6-9 months, I’ve grown to feel a lot more comfortable in my skin.  I’ve gained a lot of new friendships (Nick and Toby met today! We had a lot of fun banter and coffee/tea in Starbucks), I’ve entered into a really lovely relationship in which I’m starting to feel comfortable, and my body and image are finally reflecting the man that I am, that I’ve become.  In short, it’s taken 24 years but nobody can make me feel ugly anymore.  Sometimes I might be hard on myself, and I’m pretty vain and heavily self-critical, but at the end of the day I’ve come to a place where I’m good.  Although it doesn’t matter whether other people validate you and the most important person you have to please is yourself, it has been a revelation just how valued I am by my friends, both old and new.  I entered into university and despite my closest friends being quite different from me, they support me and I support them.  We value each other, respect each other, and nobody can convince me now that I’m an ugly person.  Over the past 6 months, I’ve let people in on some heavy secrets of mine, and nobody ran away.  They all embraced me, and that’s meant a lot to me – I’m a beautiful person inside and out.  Not because they say so necessarily – after all, I worked damn hard to get to this point and feeling this way is still incredibly new to me.  But for example, I got home tonight and my parents were sniping at each other regarding a possible new car (which would be expensive), and they tried to ensnare me in the discussion.  I’ve grown to the point where I won’t be bullied by my mother or shouted down by her neverending arguments from her fixed point of view.  And neither will I be wound up by my father’s surreptitious planted comments, nor intimidated by his own feelings of superiority, inferiority or jealousy.  I love my parents, but so often these days I feel like the adult in this house and I won’t be made to feel inferior, naïve or ugly by either of them.  It took a very long time (longer than it should have), and it took more newly-formed friendships than it should have, but I’m strong enough to see their faults for what they are, rather than just taking them into me and feeling guilty about myself.  It’s not my fault, and I’m not the problem.  I’m not perfect, but I’m beautiful and I deserve to love myself and believe in myself as much as anyone else.  And finally, even though I can often waver or doubt myself (as we all can), I more or less do.  It’s a work-in-progress, as with anything.

In both of the essays I’ve submitted on my careers guidance course so far, not only have I got pretty decent marks, but I’ve received praise on how well I write.  This stands in contrast to when I was at Oxford and my tutors would complain about my essay structure and my use of language.  Perhaps part of it is that I’ve taken these past criticisms on board, perhaps I’ve grown not only in age but in maturity and the ability to express myself in a subject or arena that I enjoy, but it’s true that you can’t please everyone.  At the end of the day, I appreciate the compliments and try to improve from criticism, but it’s a lot harder to knock me down.  I feel happier, stronger and more sure of myself, and what’s most important to me when I’m handing in an essay, when I’m selecting my outfit for the day, when I’m singing a song to an audience, is that I’m happy and believe confidently in my self-expression.  Criticism from other people can help me to grow, praise from others lets me know I’m on the right path, but at the end of the day I have to be alright with me and nobody else can disguise whether I’m good or uneasy with myself.

So I realise that this entry can be construed as me giving myself a massive pat on my back, and to an extent it’s true 😉 But in the past when I’ve kept diaries or expressed myself in some form, it’s often fixated on the negative and become quite self-deprecating.  I won’t deny that there are entries on this blog where I’ve still been that way, but life doesn’t preclude negativity.  We all have good days and bad days, but I’m determined to acknowledge the good just as much as the bad.  I feel happier than I’ve possibly ever felt in my life, and I want to celebrate that and encourage you all to celebrate your own good days and happiness.  I’m determined to celebrate myself, even if nobody else will – but the greatest thing is that in the past 6-9 months, enough of my friends have reinforced me and held me up when I’ve not quite had the energy to see the good in myself or do it myself.  I truly appreciate that, and you know who you are – thankyou 🙂 So in connection with Vivian Green’s “Beautiful”, please listen to the song and put not only your loved ones but your friends and those who matter “on a pedestal / let them know that they’re beautiful”.  A compliment costs nothing but if it comes from the heart, it can make all the difference and encourage or remind people of the good in themselves. In a recent entry I talked about the value of letting people know that you appreciate them, and I wanted to reiterate that in this entry.  I appreciate myself, I feel appreciated and I won’t be downtrodden the way I used to be.  And neither should my friends be, and neither should you be.  Love yourselves, love one another, and we can all succeed together. 🙂

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Shakira – She Wolf. (album review)

October 11, 2009

Shakira’s new album She Wolf is her first album in four years (since 2005’s Oral Fixation volumes 1 & 2, which represented her best work to date, especially on the Spanish-language vol. 1) and represents a similar transformation to Jewel’s 0304 – Shakira has made an almost-purely danceable, modern album.  Unlike Jewel’s efforts prior to 0304, Shakira has made addictive up-tempo music before: see “Whenever, Wherever”, “Objection (Tango)”, “La Tortura”, “Hips Don’t Lie”.  But never before has she devoted an entire album to the stuff; gone are the tender, thoughtful ballads such as “Underneath Your Clothes” or “Illegal”.  The question nevertheless remains – is Shakira, whose image is now more sexually potent than ever (straight blonde hair, dancing in a half-catsuit in her “She Wolf” video), cashing in, or does she still remain herself?

Mainly, I argue for the latter.  Once the initial shock of the dense production and pounding bass subsides, the melding of cultures and instruments that has always been evident in Shakira’s work is here too.  Listen to “Long Time”, and its reggae beat which gives way to an instrumental bridge that prominently features what sounds like a gypsy saxophone; “Mon Amour” employs a rocky half-time clap that is reminscent of Shakira’s spunkier moments such as Fijación Oral vol. 1‘s “Escondite Inglés”; the only semi-slow moment on the album is to be found in “Gypsy”, where Shakira employs an island feel with a plucked guitar, Caribbean-esque drums and Eastern-European string accents on the chorus.  Not to forget “Why Wait”, which is 2009’s update of “Ojos Así / Eyes Like Yours” with its Middle-East-meets-West instrumentation and production over a storming 4/4 bassline (which becomes positively incendiary in the bridge).  Musically, although it’s a little bit of a readjustment to our expectations of what Shakira’s music sounds like, it is still definitely her, and her claims of wanting to make a “bassy, beat-driven record that maintains experimentation with sounds from other parts of the world” ring true.

Shakira’s lyrics have always been put under a microscope – a fact that has irritated me immensely through the years.  Not only is Shakira an incredibly intelligent woman, but her lyrics are far and away of a much higher quality than those of the majority of traditional pop made by native-English-speaking artists.  The criticism she has gained from reviewers and comedy sketches alike (see MADTV’s parodies of “Whenever, Wherever” and “Objection (Tango)” on youtube – they’re funny, but they’re also unwarranted) is totally unfair and disrespectful of an artist who has mastered a complex language (once you get past the basics, English is a complicated language to speak fluently – I should know, since I have taught it) when I wager that the majority of these critics can’t speak more than a few basic sentences of phrase-book Spanish.  Because Shakira dared to say “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble” in her first English hit does not make her nonsensical.  Listen to “Octavo Día” and “Timor”, songs in both Spanish and English that express criticism with the way that the world is run and our own media-obsessed culture, and you’ll understand that Shakira is very well-aware of what she sings and what she has written.  On She Wolf, there is nothing as incisive as “Timor” or “How Do You Do” (both from Oral Fixation vol. 2) but its opening salvo of “A domesticated girl, that’s all you ask of me / Darling it is no joke, this is lycanthropy” is certainly more sophisticated than “I think you wanna come over, yeah I heard it through the grapevine / Are you drunk, are you sober? Think about it, doesn’t matter” from Madonna’s current hit “Celebration”.  “Mon Amour” delivers a fantastic kiss-off to a boyfriend who has gone to Paris with another woman, while “Men In This Town” ruminates on where are all the good men who can appreciate what Shakira has to offer?  (I feel her on that one.)

I suppose that a certain amount of lyrical straightforwardness is to be expected on an album which is almost purely uptempo and flirts specifically with the electro-pop genre – I can’t get too mad that some of Shakira’s more insightful and wittier metaphors have been sacrificed.  But the three Spanish tracks that round out the album – “Lo Hecho Está Hecho” (“Did It Again”), “Años Luz” (“Why Wait”) and “Loba” (“She Wolf”) – are lyrically superior to any of the album’s English tracks.  For example, “Años Luz”‘s “Esperar es un mar que aún no sé navegar / No te quedes años luz, ya estoy decidida y quiero saber si lo estás tú” translates as “Waiting is a sea that I don’t know how to navigate / You haven’t got light years, I’ve already made my mind up and I want to know whether you have too”.  The English version, “Why Wait”, says “One more night with you, I won’t think it through / Time’s money, but you knew / There’s nothing in the world you can think of that I won’t do to you”.  It’s the same thought, but in Spanish it just comes across as much more elegant and sophisticated.  Not to mention that “Loba” in particular seems to flow much more naturally in Spanish than in English, and the lyrics are perhaps more comprehensible.  In any case, the Spanish tracks add to the album, even though they are retakes of English songs from its first half – it serves to reinforce the fact that Shakira is a bilingual artist who refuses to neglect either her Spanish or English audiences, but instead (as on the Oral Fixation era) seeks to satisfy them both.  This is laudable, and I hope that Shakira comes out with a full Spanish album next year (as has been rumoured).

So it all sounds good so far.  Well, the album is a consistent listen, and its brevity means that each song gets you moving but doesn’t outstay its welcome.  The dense production, in the main courtesy of Pharrell and John Hill, flows throughout (except for the break provided by the relatively lightweight “Gypsy”).  Because of this, there are no really weak tracks, although surprisingly, the Wyclef Jean collaboration “Spy” seems the most rote and uninspired song on the set – its straightforward 4/4 beat has nothing extra to catch the listener’s ear, and sounds lazy compared to Pharrell’s musically adventurous soundscapes in “Why Wait” and “Long Time”.  “Gypsy” sounds like nothing else on the album, but its dip in tempo serves as a break which can sometimes be appreciated by the listener, but at other times seem like an interruption of the party, so depending on your mood, it could be a help or a hindrance.  Other than that, all the tracks are solid, but none of them are immediate standouts save the last track, “Mon Amour”.  With its decidedly rocky, guitar-led music and handclap-driven beat that intensify into a crunchy, heady chorus, it’s the kind of track that you can’t help but get wrapped up in.  Shakira’s vitriolic lyrics, snarling vocals and cutesy airline announcement closing out the song are the icing on the cake, and perfectly embody a girl’s anger with her straying lover’s neglect of her (perhaps similar to 2005’s “Don’t Bother”).  With repeated plays, the appeal of “Did It Again”, “Why Wait” and “Men In This Town” reveals itself, but the songs are certainly not immediate hits like “Hips Don’t Lie”, “La Tortura” or “Objection (Tango)”.

I therefore think that this is a solid Shakira album, and definitely stronger than her breakthrough Laundry Service which contained some fantastic songs but also some uninspired, pedestrian ones (here, the only track I recommend skipping is “Spy”).  However, for me it falls just short of Oral Fixation Vol. 2, because She Wolf is a tiny bit too one-note in its electro-pop approach, and slightly diminishes Shakira’s lyrical mastery in the process.  In terms of her entire catalogue, Dónde Están Los Ladrones? and particularly Fijación Oral Vol. 1 (the Freudian / Eve in the garden of Eden / Madonna and child symbolism were inspired and have yet to be matched in this album’s artwork and photography) are still Shakira’s crowning glories, but the Spanish-language tracks on She Wolf are lyrically more adept than their English counterparts and a worthy addition to both the album itself and to Shakira’s Spanish-music legacy as a whole.  In short, Shakira has far from sold out, and has made a pop album that other artists should be humbled by, such as it melds other cultures and quirky wordplay more than most radio-oriented pop.  And perhaps it is a compliment to Shakira herself that this album still falls somewhat short of her best work, and what I know she is capable of.