Sunday, May 10, 2009

Loose (Nelly Furtado) (2006)

"Sleight Of Hand"

N.B. this review appeared originally on e-pinions in 2006, I have just added the rating that Bookends no longer puts on.

No one rues the tragic death of Aaliyah more than Tim 'Timbaland' Mosely. Their collaborations paid off in a kind of glove and hand way that no amount of financial success can compensate for. Ever since then Tim has been spreading his trademark outsized funk grooves into many drowning pools with either growing success (Justin Timberlake's two solo albums)or indifference (Pussycat Dolls' stiff 'Wait A Minute'). The search for the next sensation has been a laboured task for him and now it's Nelly Furtado's shake of the dice.

Furtado's career has followed a well-trod path: bright splash into the murky waters that is pop music,followed by the inevitable let down that was her sophomore album. Her popularity waned more steeply than expected though so now it's up to Tim to restore some sense of balance.

It nearly works all the way through too. Six tracks into the album and listeners will be wowed by the stunning variety of the production and sounds employed. Furtado operates with a limited vocal range that would hinder other savants but Timbaland is used to such a dilemma--Aaliyah's vocals grew to command any frantic beats dished towards her. Eventually, she learned how to subdue the beats to the point where she controlled their tempo. Furtado is yet to have such elevation nor is she willing to carve out under the beats and carry them away into other levels. She remains content to stay within form and that prevents 'Loose' from being even more remarkable than it already is.

The album plays it trump cards early yet keep them in check--'Maneater's' groovy chorus swirls towards an extacy that never commands us to take our shirts off. 'Promiscuous' sizzles with a shimmy shimmy texture but her attempt at rapping isn't as sublime. "Glow" one ups Madonna's dance-floor ambitions with an unbearably sexy retro slink and fun but she never lets it get ahead of her. "Showtime" proves that--as with Aaliyah before her--no matter the gloss applied, Janet Jackson's career is over. "No Hay Iqual" playfully splashes its groove --using a hook similar to Busta's "What It Is"--to rock out more successfully than the other tracks and merely using English at intervals, propelling it to awesome scat levels.

Now for the letdown: the second half of the album. "Te Busque" features Juanes as a calling card to the Latino community. It's by no means a bad song but it's the type of stomper that has been done better ever since Ricky Martin went solo. Hell, "No Hay Iqual" is more effective so it feels like filler. "Say It Right" swings by to, temporarily, restore order but its noticeably less hectic than the parade that was before. "Do It" and "In God's Hands" are throw-aways to the type of 80's pop ditties that Janet Jackson was doing but just not as intriguing. Why Furtado chooses such a route for the second half of the album is puzzling. It never really worked for Aaliyah either because such contrivances are for divas not funk-masters. Not only does the album screech to a halt at this point but it hints to the same type of manipulation and mainstream ambitions that tainted Gwen Stefani's solo debut. It's such a pity because after rocking us out quite successfully she then turns a material eye and it dulls the vibe of the album.

More crucial though is the uneven placing of the songs on the album. If Furtado had sandwiched the duds between the excellent pop tracks then the sting of her mainstream ambition wouldn't feel so deep nor would it feel so bogged down by commercial instinct and be genially split down the middle trying to be all things to all people. The sooner she learns that rocking out cannot include bending midway in midstream or trying to play nice all the time, then the steadier a card player she'll become.

RATING: 7/10

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