Posts Tagged ‘lycanthropy’

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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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this is lycanthropy.

July 30, 2009

Quick, watch this before someone takes it off youtube! Apparently, that happens sometimes! (they did it to my Whitney Houston video, because obviously my singing her song is going to damage her sales.)

The song has grown on me immensely, and Shakira looks flawless.  But looking at the way she dances in the video, and combining that with the ideas contained in the lyrics, it gets me thinking of the primal sexuality that we keep locked up by day and let loose at night.  When I go to a club with my friends, I tend to prefer straight clubs because a) the majority of my friends are straight, and b) I can’t stand the bitchy queeny atmosphere, the meat-market stares, nor the awful mega-cheese of Bristol gay clubs – therefore my dancing is somewhat inhibited and I tend to play it cool (R&B / hip hop kinda promotes cool nonchalance over insane all-out dancing anyways).  But nevertheless, I’ve always been a good dancer because I guess I have an innate sense of rhythm.  I always get randoms trying to dance with me in clubs, and other guys often compliment me on my dancing (which I find crazy, because for a guy to compliment another guy without knowing them or having an ulterior motive of some sort is practically unheard of).  I’ve been dancing since I was a child, but just as I learned to sing from Mariah Carey albums, I learned to dance from MTV.  The best teachers are your idols, and my recipe for success has always been study, study, study, incorporate a range of everything into your repertoire, and then just feel the music and let what comes out come out.  That’s the way I sing, and that’s the way I dance – it’s automatic, it’s instinctive, and it’s usually more powerful than a rehearsed performance.  Just as I have performed at numerous concerts singing and playing instruments, I have done a few dance displays and was the first male ever to win my high school dance competition (to Brandy’s “What About Us?”), so I guess I know what I’m talking about.  But at the same time, I could never teach anyone to sing nor to dance, because I just do what I do and feel the music and make my body talk.  I have heard accomplished instrumentalists say that they learned how to make their piano or their guitar talk (I read a quote from Bruce Springsteen in a book in HMV the other day), and that was a powerful yet simplistic explanation of how someone plays their instrument.  So I guess the best way for me to explain the way I ‘do’ music is that I make my voice or my body talk and express itself to the music.

When Shakira says that “this is lycanthropy”, I understand that she’s referring to unleashing your inner predator (in her case, the ‘she-wolf’).  I often find myself with my ipod at night dancing around, and the most intoxicating thing for me (which is the feel I’ve tried to capture on my forthcoming album) is to be outside in the dark, with the fresh air caressing your skin and nothing to distract you from the music as you stand / move around in the moonlight.  If I’m in a more contemplative mood, I’ll smoke my cigarette while gazing out over the garden just listening to the music, taking in the lyrics and sensing the feel of the music.  Music is the perfect backdrop for me (and I presume, many many people!) to rediscover their sexuality and sensuality, and get in touch with the inner person who is subdued during the hectic day-to-day.  This is why I find music so powerful.

If I am getting ready to go out, be it night or day, and I want to feel good about myself, I’ll dress up in my nicest, most flattering clothes, make sure I have a label or two, make sure my hair is fierce, my skin is tanned and glowing, and my jewellery is on point.  But I need a soundtrack to complete my attitude and back it up.  If I am thinking about someone, I’ll associate certain songs with my emotions and, if the person is lucky / significant, with them.  Music has the power to inspire so many feelings in me, and it can make me feel sexy, and bolster my confidence and go and get that guy whom I’ve been lusting after, instead of just contemplating it.  After all, we are in disguise during our daytime personas; once the moon rises, we have full licence to let our nocturnal predator out to play and attract our prey with the way we make our bodies talk.  I believe that dancing is one of the purest forms of expression, and the physicality of someone can be so powerful, so magnetic that it can attract you towards them instinctively.  So we may be humans, but we are still animalistic in our bodies, our spirits, and in the way that music can make us react.