Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

h1

sans l’internet. (+ Chiswick Park & Turnham Green)

October 14, 2012

I am sitting in Caffè Nero on a sunny but chilly Sunday afternoon writing this. Toby has gone home to our wonderful new flat in Chiswick, where we’ve been living for a week now, while I continue catching up on all the errands that need doing online (of which this – blogging – is the last). We’re not going to receive our home broadband until the end of October, and I don’t want to exhaust my phone’s 3G data limit unnecessarily, and so I find myself taking my laptop to cafes along the Chiswick High Road in order to use their internet connection.  This is how Toby and I have managed to research an exciting city break to Prague next week (which Toby booked the following day – I can’t wait to experience a new city and country, and I am sure to share some photos on here with y’all!), but just as we’ve been getting used to living in a new flat with a new layout, new light switches (when I’m wandering around in the dark, my hands automatically slap the wrong locations and I have to consciously remind myself where the switch is located) and a new commute to work,  so I’ve also been learning where the best wi-fi spots are. I actually wrote an entire blog on Monday afternoon in a Starbucks a bit further up the road, along with a picture of Chiswick Park tube station – but the wi-fi there was so erratic that the entire blog post seems to have disappeared. So:

 

And for good measure:

 

Chiswick Park was around the corner from a large Sainsburys where I spent an inordinate amount of money last weekend getting essentials for our flat. And then on Thursday evening, Toby and I got off at Turnham Green and walked to Starbucks in the pouring rain to use their useless internet. Caffè Nero’s service is far superior! This morning, we had Nana round for brunch as the first guest to our new abode, and among the many things we discussed was how we can’t live without the internet, but it’s nice (if inconvenient!) to not have it at our fingertips all the time. I remember the days of an old dialup modem that made the pingy-pongy noise as it connected – and nobody could call the house while we were online, because there was only one line… It seems like a bygone age, but it was only 12 or 13 years ago! Nowadays we can do more or less everything online, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the internet – but at the same time, I sit and watch television and films with Toby, we read books (I have started Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh – it’s very good and reminds me of my time at Oxford a great deal, and makes me realise that the university was a wonderful place but far too monolithic an institution for my taste) and magazines, I go out and about and socialise – my mum came up to visit London yesterday and I took her to Harrods, Sloane Street and King’s Road; it was wonderful. Without the internet I wouldn’t be able to blog and share my music, thoughts, reviews and so much more with you, and I would never be foolish enough to renounce it (nor would I even be tempted to), but while being without it is inconvenient for the multiple logistics of establishing ourselves in a new flat and area of the city, it’s refreshing in that it makes me actually connect – and remember how to connect – with the more natural and simple pleasures of life around me that we can risk taking for granted.

Advertisements
h1

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.

h1

The King’s Speech – review.

January 23, 2011

I went to see The King’s Speech with Toby last night, and thinking about the experience, the main sensation that I feel is guilt. Guilt that midway through the film’s second third, I surrendered to sleep; guilt that I could not concur with the film’s largely glowing reviews from critics and friends alike; guilt that despite the actors’ invariably fine performances, there was just something lacking. It didn’t take me long to put my finger on what the main missing ingredient was, but first, allow me to expand.

The King’s Speech is a smug, self-satisfied film that surrounds itself with a certain air that says to its audience, that proclaims  to those who see its advertisements, “You are watching this because you are intelligent, because you are interested in History. Feel congratulated, feel superior to the hoi polloi.” This air of self-importance is perhaps fitting with the film’s focus on early 20th century royalty, but is certainly at odds with the flat cinematography. In Lionel’s basement, this cheapness, this absence of depth between the background, the foreground and the actors can perhaps be forgiven as it is evocative of the speech therapist’s relative poverty – all the more pointing out with a wry smile that the future King of England has had to go there, to such a lowly place (after all, it is in a basement that can only be accessed through a cramped lift) in order to find his redemption. But when in more royal quarters, how can you really feel a sense of majesty when the decor, the scenery does not evoke this? The film’s rather small budget of $15 million reveals itself early on. And yet, Firth’s previous film, the sumptuous A Single Man, was made on half that budget and both looks and, more importantly, feels like a million dollars. Go figure.

Nevertheless, the actors all provide stellar showings – none more so than Colin Firth, whose stammer never feels affected or artificial; whose frustration, anger, silence, tenderness towards his family, fear of and eagerness for being the country’s king ring true at every turn. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue with sincerity and humility, and while I much prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a sexy temptress à la Fight Club or a ridiculously pompous Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland, she more than does her part as Queen Elizabeth here. The King’s Speech is certainly not lacking in fine performances.

But unfortunately, the crux of the problem is this – characters cannot do anything without a story. The plot of The King’s Speech is as follows: the King has a stammer, so he gets some speech therapy to fix it so he can deliver speeches (thus the title’s double reference to the king’s ability to speak, and the film’s final speech – his ultimate test). That’s it. This plot is less than linear – it’s a dot. It goes nowhere, it does nothing unexpected or even notable. As mentioned earlier, I fell asleep for 20 minutes in the film’s second half, woke up and events were more or less where I had left them. And even worse, 99% of the film’s audience know the entirety of the plot before even entering the cinema! Even if you are not au fait with 20th century British history, the British monarchy nor the stories of wartime Britain, you will know how the film ends – for the pure fact that nobody under the age of 15 is going to see this film of their own accord, and the vast majority of those over 15 know that there has never been a king who died moments after being crowned during a World War, nor has there ever been a king whose stammer prevented him from delivering speeches. If either of these things had happened, they would be etched in our history in such a way that everyone would know about them, just as they know of the death of Princess Diana, of her wedding to Prince Charles, of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, of the Queen’s two birthdays. It would be another elementary fact. Thus, this means that it is inevitable that the King gets his stammer cured, or at least is able to manage it in order to perform his duties.

There is nothing approaching a subplot in the film to maintain interest. Edward abdicates in order to pursue love, and the audience is expected to just accept this because that’s how it happened in history – there is no attempt to probe beneath the façade of pompous dignity to question whether Edward is actually doing the right thing, the brave thing, pursuing truth over the pretences inherent in being a monarch (according to King George V himself). The film has only room for one triumphant victim, and that is Firth’s character – even when he is acting like a snobbish, spoilt moron, the viewer is not invited to feel repulsed or even more than mildly annoyed at his presumptuous pride, because he is the film’s Hero, the country’s King, and thus must not be questioned. If you are choosing to question him and other aspects of the film, then good for you – but you’re going above and beyond what the film requires you to do in order to get to the final triumph and achieve your gold star. Any attempts to psychologise the King’s speech impediment are completely reductionist – is it the absence of Daddy’s affections? The taunting of the mean big brother? Peer pressure? The King’s Speech expects its audience to overlook this simplicity because it is British, it is Royal, it is Historical – but if these explanations were transposed to an American rom-com or a Channel 5 drama, they would be seen and derided for the facile clichés they are.

Ultimately, The King’s Speech is a simple film that contains faultless performances, and whose stars should be amply rewarded for their acting. But nevertheless, it is a film that is a plotless puddle, all the while proclaiming itself a majestic ocean.

h1

stupid lucky.

May 14, 2010

I haven’t written in a week, and that’s because I don’t really know what to say.  I don’t just want to write album reviews because that’s just one facet of this site.  I just don’t know how to word how stupid, how complacent I have been, and yet how much I have overthought things and let my overthinking nearly ruin my relationships (both friendships and romantic).  And yet, I’ve been so lucky, because I’ve realised in time, and I managed to put aside my pride, my severe need for independence, and let someone else in.  I’m so lucky because I am with somebody who realises my problems without me necessarily saying anything, and he is willing to stand by me while I work on myself and work it out.

Nobody is perfect, and I’m pretty hard on myself.  Everyone says that, and I suppose that it’s true.  But I think it’s so illogical, so backwards that I can love other people and yet I can’t love myself? How does that work?  I do love aspects of myself, but I also hate things about me.  I guess that’s normal, but the things that I hate seem to throb, vibrate and I constantly am aware of them.  I guess that as I get older, I’ll learn to accept these things and feel them less vividly, but I don’t understand how someone can love me with all of these faults that I have.  So on the one hand, I cover up any weaknesses and portray myself as sociable, confident and outgoing, so that nobody will know that I have these weaknesses.  Sometimes I can even trick myself into believing that I am this way. And yet on the other hand, I find it so hard to let anyone get truly close to me, lest they see who I really am and go running a mile.  Pushing people away has been easier for me, and I finally realised that I have someone so precious that I don’t want to push away.  So I am learning to let him in, because I do love him.  I just feel so stupid that it got to the point where I could nearly have lost him to really wake me up and finally allow him to see me for who I am.

That’s why I feel so stupid and yet so lucky.  Looking at my family, thinking of my past, I shock people when I tell little stories about the emotional abuse I endured growing up.  Things that are nothing compared to the atrocious things some people suffer, but which niggle my brain and fold into my subconscious until they are a part of me.  I shudder when I recognise parts of my mother’s personality becoming more blatant within me.  Mike and Toby both laugh, but I know that they are surprised… adding up why I am the way I am, impressed that I seem to have made it out more or less ok, confused as to how it all happened to me.  And when they tell me things about them, I guess that I go through the same process. Getting to know someone, not just the good but the bad too, is a cautious evaluation that involves trust on both sides.  And I’ve finally learned enough to know that if I chose to be alone this time and forsake someone who seems to offer me everything I could need for the sake of independence and security, then I truly would be stupid.  I’m glad to say that I’m not that stupid anymore. 🙂

Love is risk.  Misery can be like a pillow, so comfortable and familiar.  If Toby is brave enough to reach out his hand to me and offer me a way to happiness (and this whole year has taught me that I can be happy, that I deserve to be), then all I have to do is push my way up through my own fears and insecurities and take it.  That was really scary, but I did it.  I am with him now, and it feels really good to open myself up to that feeling.  I think I can make it, and I think that life will be good.  Looking at my family again, I don’t want to have a relationship where there’s constantly drama and sadness and questioning.  I know that a certain element of that is inevitable, but when it takes over the joy of being with somebody… I don’t need that.  I don’t want to end up like that.  After all, like I said in a previous entry, not everyone gets the chance for love.  I have that chance, and all I have to do is take it.  So I’m taking it.  Deep breath, here we go.  I am truly, truly lucky.

h1

onyx paradise.

April 11, 2010

Those of you who know me will know that my screen name for 85% of the forums that I use is “onyxparadise”.  Originally I only liked the ‘onyx’ aspect of the name (since the word looks and sounds pretty), but the name ‘onyx’ had been taken already on the forums I was interested in using at the time, and I was inspired by Britney Spears’ Onyx Hotel Tour.  Choosing an alternative, mysterious-sounding gemstone quickly became apparently not an option: “sapphire” and “topaz” (both in reference to my mother’s favourite stones, and both pretty-sounding words once again) were far too girly, so I thought about adding something to “onyx” to make it work.  Again “sunset” and “beach” sounded too feminine, but I hit upon the idea of “onyxparadise” and it had a magical, mysterious ring to it.  When I think of what the word represents, it symbolises some sort of fantasy faceted-glass multicoloured landscape within a gemstone.  I don’t know how to verbalise it better than that, but I know that those words create nothing close to the image / atmosphere in my head.

Returning to Britney Spears, she did teach me something interesting about the onyx: although the stone is traditionally black when we see it used in jewellery (and although black is my favourite “colour”, I’m not a fan of onyx jewellery), any light that shines into it can be refracted back out in a multitude of colours.  Now, Wikipedia tells me that this is false (or somewhat exaggerated at the very least) but I’m going to go with it because it supports the metaphor that I want to explore and essentially base the rest of this blog entry on.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve always felt like I’ve had multiple personalities.  Different sides of myself expanded as I got older and I started to give them different names: Alan; Miles (ok that was ill-advised but he didn’t last long); AC; purehonesty; onyxparadise; Chase.  They embodied different things, different representations of me, and now I reflect upon it I see that onyxparadise was really the perfect name.  Rather than multiple personalities, I am one person with all these different facets, different colours, different aspects to my being.  Just like an onyx (or Britney Spears’ version of it, anyway).

Sometimes I feel like I keep getting it wrong: I hated the movie Kick Ass, which I went to see last night, because I could only see reference after reference to Kill Bill – at want point does a parody/homage become a rip-off? It must have just been me, as the vast majority of reviews online are hugely positive, but I guess I just didn’t get the sense of humour (though I enjoyed Hit Girl). I don’t eat pizzas quickly enough for my father to have as much space in the fridge as he would like, and the first thing he said to me this morning was “who opened the back door?” as if by getting my milk from the fridge I had unwittingly committed a cardinal sin.  It’s times like these that I feel socially awkward or incorrect (like when I confused the barista at Costa by barking at Toby not to be so healthy in his choice of biscotti, as he was making me look bad with my vanilla frescato and carrot cake), and it’s only recently that I’ve taken a personal stand not to let my family make me feel so ugly, because their problems are no reflection of me.

There is a facet of me that feels tough, dark and edgy.  I now have 3 tattoos, I dye my hair black on the regular, I smoke and drink and stay out late.  I’m still a good person, I have many friends and I work damn hard juggling studies and employment. So I feel I’m entitled to play hard, and I feel that at 24 years old I’ve proved to myself (and to anyone else, not that that matters) that I am intelligent and sensible enough to make my own decisions and to stand by them and live through the consequences, right or wrong.  By embracing that side of myself, I take less nonsense, stand up for myself more (although this is still a work in progress)and I feel that it’s been key in the shift in my life over the last 9 months to being much more happier and taking control.  I feel happier indulging the edgier, mysterious side of me, acknowledging there are dark depths of my personality and essence that I have yet to plumb, because it makes the light shine that much brighter too.

And now, I have some really good friends, people who are close to me.  If my family more and more are the source of unnecessary stress and drama in my life, then my friends feel like what my family should be.  So I almost glow when my new best friend tells me how glad he is to be friends with me; when my boyfriend tells me for the first time that he loves me.  These are experiences I never had before, that make me feel almost uncomfortably good because I am valued, I matter.  Sometimes being strong, being independent, being tough – even if it’s a self-fulfilling façade at times – is really lonely.  But it’s times like that, it’s times when Mike offers me to spend the day with him and his family, when Billy gives me a big hug and kiss before bedtime, when Toby holds me tight in his arms as we watch TV and I feel so safe, that I know I don’t have to be, don’t deserve to be alone.

I never used to wear designer clothes or jewellery.  I have never been a 32″ waist since I was a child, and I find it funny to be posing as a model in Toby’s photos on beautiful days walking around Bristol, because I always dreamed of being a model and assumed it was out of reach.  After the strife of growing up between my parents and their families, the violent alcohol-fuelled arguments and mental abuse I experienced as a child and adolescent, the periods of unhappy rebellion as a 16, 17, 18-year-old, the disappointment of not really knowing where I was going with my life having graduated from Oxford University, the turmoil of a year in retail unable to fulfil my potential, I finally get to experience everything slotting into place, the lights shining from the onyx in a rainbow of the right colours.  Life finally feels good, if not how I imagined it to be! So this entry is really personal to me, because it’s how I see that I’m a whole host of different things – I am one person with many different aspects, not all of them necessarily pretty but all of them important, all of them of value.

h1

Top 20 albums of 2009.

December 25, 2009

Hello everyone, and Merry Christmas!  I have compiled (and it was startlingly easy) my top 20 albums of 2009 (if you know me, you know it’ll be an R&B female-dominated affair as usual!).  Unlike last year, when I listed 10 and did mini reviews, this time I’ve got 20 (since my shortlist came to 20 albums, I thought it would just be easier to rank 11-20, than pick out some for Honourable Mentions).  No mini-reviews, or I would be here forever, and I think my blog posts are long enough without breaking the 5000 word barrier!  So I’ve just put the best and worst tracks from each album with the album cover, and hopefully you’ll be intrigued to download my favourite songs of 2009.  And while you’re at it, you can download my own album, Quiet Storm, here too! So without further ado…

20. Utada HikaruThis Is The One (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Come Back To Me, Apple And Cinnamon, This One (Crying Like A Child), On And On

Skip = Automatic Part II, Poppin’

19. Electrik RedHow To Be A Lady Volume 1

Highlights = Muah, P Is For Power, W.F.Y., Drink In My Cup, Kill Bill

Skip = So Good, Friend Lover, On Point

18. Lady GaGaThe Fame Monster

Highlights = Bad Romance, Alejandro, Monster, Teeth

Skip = Speechless, So Happy I Could Die

17. Joss StoneColour Me Free!

Highlights = Could Have Been You, Stalemate, Girlfriend On Demand

Skip = Incredible, Parallel Lines, Governmentalist

16. Cheryl Cole3 Words

Highlights = 3 Words, Parachute, Heaven, Fight For This Love, Boy Like You

Skip = everything else!

15. Chrisette MicheleEpiphany

Highlights = Blame It On Me, Epiphany (I’m Leaving), Notebook, On My Own

Skip = What You Do, Another One, Mr. Right

14. Nicki Minaj – Beam Me Up Scotty

Highlights = I Get Crazy, Kill Da DJ, Mind On My Money, Keys Under Palm Trees, Beam Me Up Scotty

Skip = Best I Ever Had, Easy

13. MýaBeauty & The Streets Vol. 1

Highlights = About My B.I., Show Me Something, Boss, Club Go Crazy, Work It Out, Black Out

Skip = Go Hard Or Go Home, The Only One, Full Service

12. Robin ThickeSex Therapy

Highlights = Sex Therapy, Meiplé, Shakin’ It For Daddy, Elevatas, Make U Love Me

Skip = Million Dolla Baby, I Got U, Mona Lisa

11. Alicia KeysThe Element Of Freedom (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Doesn’t Mean Anything, Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart, Love Is My Disease, Distance And Time, Empire State Of Mind (Part II)

Skip = Love Is Blind, Wait Til You See My Smile, Like The Sea, This Bed

10. The-DreamLove vs Money

Highlights = My Love, Take U Home 2 My Mama, Fancy, Right Side Of My Brain

Skip = Walkin’ On The Moon, Sweat It Out, Love vs Money, Let Me See The Booty

9. Keri HilsonIn A Perfect World…

Highlights = Turnin’ Me On, Get Your Money Up, Knock You Down, Make Love, Energy, Where Did He Go

Skip = Intuition, Slow Dance, How Does it Feel

8. Black Eyed Peas The E.N.D.

Highlights = Boom Boom Pow, Rock That Body, Imma Be, Electric City, Mare

Skip = Alive, Missing You, Rockin To The Beat

7. ShakiraShe Wolf (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Did It Again, Why Wait, Men In This Town, Mon Amour

Skip = Gypsy, Spy

6. Trey SongzReady

Highlights = I Invented Sex, I Need A Girl, LOL :-), Black Roses, Yo Side Of The Bed

Skip = Jupiter Love, Does He Do It, Be Where You Are

5. AmerieIn Love & War

Highlights = Heard ‘Em All, Higher, Swag Back, Different People, Dear John

Skip = Tell Me You Love Me, Red Eye, Pretty Brown

4. LeToyaLady Love (read my full review here!)

Highlights = She Ain’t Got…, Not Anymore, Good To Me, Regret, I Need A U, Don’t Need You

Skip = Take Away Love, After Party, Tears

3. CiaraFantasy Ride (read my full review here!)

Highlights = High Price, Like A Surgeon, Never Ever, Work, Keep Dancin’ On Me, I Don’t Remember

Skip = Ciara To The Stage, Love Sex Magic, Lover’s Thing

2. RihannaRated R (read my full review here!)

Highlights = Hard, Russian Roulette (check out my single review here!), Fire Bomb, Rude Boy, G4L, The Last Song

Skip = Rockstar 101

1. Mariah CareyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (read my full review here!)

Highlights = H.A.T.E.U., Ribbon, Angels Cry, I Want To Know What Love Is, Candy Bling

Skip = It’s A Wrap

h1

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.