“There was a lot of fighting with myself about what direction I wanted to go,” Rihanna‘s duet partner recently told Latina magazine. “Throughout the process there were songs that I used to love at that moment and then hated a few minutes later.” That indecisiveness is obvious to the listener as the 37-year-old manically hops genres with no rhyme or reason, but it’s also quintessentially Shakira (take a listen to the equally disjointed/amazing She Wolf) and, funnily enough, part of the album’s considerable charm.
The hitmaker’s voice and, at times, demented lyrics are so distinctive that she can drop a massive house anthem or channel Taylor Swift on a fragile guitar-pop ditty and still sound very much herself. It’s her favorite party trick and she puts it to good use on Shakira. Yes, a couple of tracks that fall flat and the LP would really benefit from a handful of radio-friendly singles (there’s not a lot to choose from) but the journey is so weird and wonderful that I instantly wanted to take it again.
While we’re on the topic of singles, let’s acknowledge how unfortunate the choices have been. Not because “Can’t Remember To Forget You” and “Empire” are bad songs — far from it — but, rather, because they don’t really represent the album. The former is a fantastic slice of reggae-tinged pop that worms its way into your consciousness after multiple listens. Which is great for an album track but not for a lead single from a superstar in search of a top 10 hit. “Empire” is an even more curious choice with its rock overtones and howled chorus. I genuinely love the song but it’s way too crazy for radio.
A much better option would have been Dr. Luke-produced party-starter “Dare (La La La)”, which was Shakira’s original choice. A video was filmed in 2013 but shelved when the diva became pregnant. It’s a shame because the frankly-nuts dance anthem picks up where hits “Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)” and “Hips Don’t Lie” left off — by positioning South America’s sweetheart as the queen of dancefloor. It’s euphoric, odd and destined to be huge internationally when the alternate World Cup version (it’s a bonus track) rolls out.
If you’re hoping for more upbeat anthems like “Dare (La La La)”, prepare for disappointment. The album is relatively ballad heavy but the smattering of dance-pop is very, very good. Take the Sia-penned/Greg Kurstin-produced Target bonus track “Chasing Shadows”. It’s a darkly romantic delight that rivals She Wolf gem “Men In This Town” as Shakira’s best electro-anthem. “Spotlight”, another Kurstin production, is a relentlessly catchy toe-tapper that sounds like a Kelly Clarkson pop/rock jam on acid complete with lyrics about laying golden eggs.
Shak dabbles in reggae-tinged pop again on LP highlight “Cut Me Deep”. A duet with Canadian band Magic! (they landed a huge international hit with “Rude” in 2013), the quirky collaboration sounds like No Doubt covering Pink and Nate Ruess‘ similarly sparse, emotionally raw and oddly catchy “Just Give Me A Reason”. Nasri‘s production — he also happens to be Magic!’s frontman — is incredibly tight and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is released as single in more adventurous territories.
The rest of the album is, surprisingly enough, largely comprised of melodic, rootsy pop with a slight country twist. Actually, the twist isn’t even that slight on Blake Shelton duet “Medicine”. This finds the blond bombshell in full cowgirl mode, serving Carrie Underwood realness while trading verses with her fellow The Voice coach. I’m not sure how well this will sit with country music aficionados but I like it.
“The One Thing” is a better example of Shakira’s exploration of organic guitar-pop. This wouldn’t sound out of place on a Taylor Swift album (well, perhaps on the genre-bridging Red) with its sunny sing-a-long chorus and infectious hand-claps and foot-stomps. It’s relentlessly adorable and utterly irresistible. A description that applies to the more sedate but equally appealing “23″, which is an open love letter to boyfriend Gerard Piqué.
“Do you believe in destiny because I do, as I did then, when you were only 23?” she asks sweetly over a simple beat before freestyling a wicked vocal hook. You can even hear the couple’s child giggle at the end of the track. It’s an avalanche of cute! Similarly serene is breezy guitar ballad “Loca Por Ti”, which was recorded in different languages for the various international editions of Shakira. It’s an absolute winner.
The flip-side of that love fest is Chantal Kreviazuk-penned “You Don’t Care About Me”. The bitter anthem finds Shakira tap into a similar vein of discontent as “Don’t Bother”, letting her ex know exactly how she feels over sparse beats and brass. “I say it confidently that you just don’t care about me” is her memorable refrain. This is a real grower. It takes a couple of listens but there’s something mesmerizing about the mega-selling songstress in a foul mood.
There aren’t really any real misfires on the album but “Broken Record” is too saccharine for my liking and piano ballad “That Way” feels like an afterthought. Shakira is an extremely good collection of songs without an obvious hit or overarching sound. It’s simply held together by the Colombian’s quirky lyrics and inimitable voice. And that’s more than enough for the diva’s millions of fans around the globe.
Pops like: Shakira making up her own lyrics to No Doubt hits.
Possible Future Singles: “Dare (La La La)” is a no-brainer, while “Chasing Shadows” is ridiculously great. “The One Thing”, “Cut Me Deep” and “Loca Por Ti” could work in different markets.
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Mike Wass