Nelly Furtado - Loose
I'm Like A Bird is the kind of song that will never not sound at home on radio, such is the simplicity of its singalong chorus and summery charm. Since that debut hit, Nelly Furtado has been on somewhat of a tumultuous journey over the course of just two albums. Her first offering was an enjoyable collection of songs that embraced the 'pop' sound of Bird but also added licks of her own world music and hip-hop influences. Follow-up Folkore, released at the tail-end of 2003, was more of the same but a little more stripped-back and subdued, most likely the prime reason why it didn't sell as much as its hugely successful predecessor. Fast forward to 2006, and Nelly is back! The acoustic guitar has been put away though (for the most part), and in its place are the hip-hop beats uber-producer Timbaland is known for. The brains behind many a monster hip-'pop' single during the last decade (Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake, Aaliyah, etc. all owe him a great debt), he has teamed up with Ms Furtado to create a straight-down-the-line R'n'B effort - only, with Timbaland, is 'straight' ever an option? However, the main question that needs to be answered here is, does the album work? Is Nelly able to sustain her individual voice amongst the Rihanna's and J.Lo's of today's R'n'B/pop-crossover scene?
Unfortunately, it's a case of Loose being a game of two halves. Lead single Maneater is, of course, one of the defining pop moments of the year - its heady mix of pulsating beats, 80s-style electro synths, and attitude-heavy lyrics means it will forever be remembered alongside the likes of Kylie's Can't Get You Out of My Head and Britney's Toxic as a remarkable pop song. Almost as good is Promiscuous, undoubtedly the next single and a bloody great track that acts as something of a duel between Nelly and Timbaland, both taking vocal duties on top of a backing track that features a funky looped drum beat Missy would give her pimped ride for. Although these two numbers are easily Loose's standout tracks, more fun can be had - Afraid and Glow continue the glossy R'n'B electro vibes that make Maneater such a highlight while No Hay Igual is fantastically funky even though I can't understand a word of it. Do It wouldn't have sounded out of place on Gwen Stefani's solo effort, and Wait For You is a fantastic Eastern-flavoured effort.
Despite these highlights, the rest of the album is sadly underwhelming. Showtime and Te Busque are blatant filler, the sort of standard lacklustre songs that let many a mainstream R'n'B album down. Even those irritating little asides, featuring conversation between the singer and producer, are present and correct in all their cliched annoyingness. In God's Hand is a mediocre and plodding ballad that pales in comparison to album closer All Good Things (Come To An End), co-written by Chris Martin. Two poor bonus tracks (one featuring the Ivor Novello-baiting line "I do like sports/But I don't like wearing shorts") are tagged on to the end of the set, rounding out an uneven package.
In conclusion, Loose does not translate the eccentricities and individual flourishes that made her first two albums little pop gems. In taking on a more mainstream style of music, she's lost some of her spark. However, with songs like Maneater and Promiscuous, the album is not a complete failure at all. The problem is, like many a commercial R'n'B-diva album (for instance, Kelis' most recent album Tasty), the album seems to be centred around three or four great tracks and then rests on its laurels for the remainder of its stay.