Shakira's 'She Wolf' has plenty of bite

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By Chris Richards
Tuesday, November 24, 2009

With Shakira's new album, "She Wolf," the language barrier isn't crossed so much as exploded, reassembled, straddled and grinded upon. It's a flimsy barrier where sexual metaphors come bursting through one after another, loud and sometimes unclear.

"I'm starting to feel just a little abused, like a coffee machine in an office," she sighs on the album's titillating title track. And while the singer sounds more seductive than ever, what on Earth does she mean? That she's always really hot? That she's tired of being jilted for Starbucks?

Shakira doesn't give us much time to ponder these questions, and therein lies the distinct pleasure of listening to her sing in English. It's not about the details that get lost in translation -- it's about the bizarre new shapes her lyrics take on, and the delightful, dissonant frisson they create.

With "She Wolf" the song, she's mixing metaphors too quickly for us to keep up, zipping through a candy-sweet disco track, cooing about her lupine desires and casually dropping the word "lycanthropy." (Look it up. And Google "Giorgio Moroder," while you're at it.)

With "She Wolf" the album, she's courting American dance floors with unprecedented zeal. Ascending from pop hopeful to international star to blonder-than-ever global presence, the singer's new disc finds her catering almost exclusively to American eardrums with the employ of Pharrell Williams and Timbaland, two producers who shaped the pop charts for a decade that's about to expire. It results in a slew of electro-flavored tunes that would have sounded more timely in 2005 but still glide on the super-powered presence of the woman holding the microphone.

With "Long Time," Shakira's come-ons resemble science fiction. "I wish I had longer legs that I could fasten to your body so you'd take me with you everywhere," she sings as a synthesizer line weaves through a blurry reggaeton beat. Weird, right? "I'm so happy," she sings. "I should get sued."

These fascinating little flubs have become a hallmark of Shakira's English-language tunes. Her 2001 American breakout hit "Whenever, Wherever," featured the much-celebrated couplet, "Lucky that my breasts are small and humble/So you don't confuse them with mountains." But with "She Wolf," the sonic environment is more pristine, making the verbal fuzziness more pronounced. And fantastic. Except when it's not.

"Men in This Town" is a rant against Los Angeles and the leading men who live there. "Matt Damon is not meant for me," Shakira bellows inexplicably before shifting into a discomfiting baby-talk finale. "It's a suicide," she coos.

But where one song goes utterly wrong, another goes exactly right. "Mon Amour" is a pop-rock bauble where cheerleading handclaps give way to a Shakira scorned. "Every night I pray that you don't knock her up," she seethes at her ex. " 'Cause I still want to be the mother of your child." Yowch!

Turns out, Shakira's lover has run off with another to Paris. "I really hope you have a horrible vacation," she fumes before outlining all the ways she hopes the getaway goes awry. "Hope . . . your room smells, and the toilet doesn't flush, and the locals treat you mean, and the service takes too long."

Broken latrines and inattentive wait staff! Few pop singers know how to have this kind of coldhearted fun -- in any language.

Download these

"She Wolf," "Mon Amour," "Good Stuff"


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