Posts Tagged ‘gypsy’

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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.

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psychoanalysis.

September 5, 2009

It’s come to the point where I look forward to my dreams to see what twisted scenario my brain is going to spit out at me while I’m sleeping.  When I wake up and I either haven’t had a dream (to my knowledge), or I already know that I have forgotten it, I feel somewhat frustrated and cheated, although there’s nothing I can do.  But the past couple of weeks, as you’ll know if you’ve been checking in here from time to time, I’ve been having an extraordinary string of weird, convoluted dreams.  Last night’s was more a reversion to type, where I had been with my mother and my nan in town, except for some reason I had to catch the bus up to my nan’s house by myself.  I remember I was smoking at the bus stop, anxiously scanning the streets to make sure that I wasn’t caught by my family.  The bus was taking an extremely long time to turn up, and just before it did, this girl from school that I used to know, called Kate Noble, appeared and began to stalk me, circling the bus stop and grinning in my face (in a creepy way).

I thought I had shaken her off when I got on the bus, which looked more like a coach. The driver indicated that the only free seat was the one directly behind him (right at the front) so I sat there, only to discover that Kate was sat behind me, wearing a knitted black shawl around her head and shoulders so as to make her look like a creepy gypsy, with her heavy black eye makeup and violet lipstick with blinding white teeth.  She kept trying to steal things from me (at one point, the driver of the bus turned round and indicated to me that she had stolen my gold and silver ring, a plastic piece of jewellery my father had bought me as a misguided Christmas present a few years ago), and after a while I turned around and started threatening her to leave me alone, I swore at her and called her a cunt, and she just laughed at me.  That was about it, although I remember a knife being involved, though I’m not sure if I tried to kill her or if she intended to murder me.

I often have dreams where I’m being stalked, where there is a murderer or killer or evil person chasing me for some reason.  I have always loved horror movies, and when I was a child I used to watch the murder mysteries and movies that my mother would tape from the nights before.  Looking back, I guess I was quite young to be watching those kinds of things, but I only occasionally got scared and I found the stories quite exciting and absorbing, as well as psychologically stimulating.  Trying to work out who the killer was, what motivated them to do what they did and their methods was like a detective game for me, and I look back fondly on those times I shared with my mum watching programmes in the mornings when I was off from school.  I never felt like I couldn’t handle watching even the scariest films, and it’s come to the point where none of my friends want to watch a large part of my DVD collection because I have a lot of twisted, scary films.

During my waking hours, watching these kinds of thing doesn’t affect me in the slightest, so perhaps my dreams are a manifestation of that? Not to get all Freudian, but it would make sense if the violent and twisted things that I watch are replicated (in a more abstract way) in the dreams that I have, because luckily in reality I have yet to be stalked by a serial killer or be fleeing from my family who had been turned into vampires or even be followed by a compulsive thief.  Right now, I am watching American Psycho, because I am about a third of the way through Bret Easton Ellis’ book and loving it, so I wanted to revisit the film.  The main character, Patrick Bateman, is quite twisted and yet extremely hollow, actively conforming to a yuppie stereotype and exhibiting no further ambition beyond collecting money, designer clothes and achieving a perfect physique; his addiction to hardcore pornography and penchant for violently murdering beautiful girls is perhaps the most edgy thing about his life which is a qualified success beyond all measure, and yet an utterly heartless and one-dimensional façade.  Perhaps this is why he has developed this irresistible urge to violate, to cause pain and end people’s lives… it’s the most impactful thing that he can do, although the impact is obviously negative.

Despite this, the film is hilarious at the same time as its ideas are interesting and vaguely shocking.  I recognise a world where you are supposed to achieve a checklist of things in order to be “successful” or “happy”: car, well-paid job, trendy social circle, relationship, house… These are all things that I genuinely want, but at the same time I don’t have complete faith that once I’ve achieved these things, I will be any happier than I am now.  I think that most of us seek a way to achieve our wildest dreams while also working towards a more realistic success – one doesn’t necessarily negate the other, but there comes a point where we choose one over the other.  Because not everyone can be famous, most of us go for a realistic, modest version of happiness which is possibly more stable; but either way, nobody knows how much happiness lies at the end of the journey.  I guess that nobody wants to be predictable or mundane, so we search for ways to make us edgy.  Rather than murdering or raping people (as does Patrick Bateman), I choose to have killer fashion sense and make my own music (that’s also in pursuit of achieving my dreams of being a singer, so I try to keep my dreams alive while living an everyday life).  That’s the way that I set myself apart from others, even in my own head.  We all have our own ‘thing’, I guess…

But at the end of the day (I don’t know if this is true in American Psycho the book, as I haven’t even gotten halfway through it yet), it remains to be seen whether it truly satisfies us.  All I want, which is part of the reason why I want to entertain, why I love to sing and create music, why I want to be a Careers Adviser for my more ‘realistic’ vocation, is to make a difference to people’s lives, to have an impact on society, to be important and remembered; to matter. I guess that Patrick Bateman is driven to choosing to murder people (I know it is a paradox to be “driven to choose to do something” but it’s the best, most immediate way I can think of to express how we are at once responsible and moulded by society and environment for the choices that we make) in the same pursuit : to break away from mundane ordinary life, and to make an unforgettable impact.  I hope to do the same, but in a more positive and less damaging, psychopathic way!!!   I hope that my dreams just stay as dreams, because they are exciting, interesting and yet utterly harmless.  I guess that I enjoy Street Fighter IV in the same way – it’s edgy, violent and satisfying, but it’s just a game and I have no desire (96% of the time) to kick anyone’s face in.  I suppose all I am trying to say is that while murder is inexcusable, I can also see how current society, employment and the hierarchies which exist within each can drive somebody apparently successful and balanced to do shocking and unbalanced things.  I just hope to do things which shock people in a good way, rather than in a bad (or illegal) one.