Those who have been boning up on their belly moves in anticipation of Shakira's "Oral Fixation Vol. 2" might want to save their hip-shaking for the Grammy-grabber's future albums. If the Spanish-language "Fijacion Oral Vol. 1" was a nod to Shakira's past albums by celebrating her Latin and Lebanese roots, then Vol. 2 allows her to branch out of those roots, and at times leave them behind altogether to experiment with '80's New Wave hooks and sonic jangles of electro-pop.
On this, Shakira's second English-language record, her deliberately untamed and keening voice, wavering between sultry belts and whispery confessions, is perhaps the only thing that will be familiar to fans of 2001's "Laundry Service." The Cranberries, the Cure and even early Madonna are echoed in her best romantic ponderings, "Don't Bother" and "Something" (the only two tacks translated from Vol. 1), which prove that she still walks the thin line between bliss and rage in her love songs. But this time the songstress also looks beyond matters of the heart.
In "what if God was one of us" fashion, Shakira poses such questions to a deity as "Do you go to the mosque or the synagogue" in "How Do You Do," where she mixes Arabic, Judaic and Christian prayers with clashing electric guitars and Gregorian chants. The New Order- and Erasure-inspired "Timor" could do without the cheesy choir of kids better suited to Michael Jackson's "Heal the World." However, the irony of Shakira's synthesized, Spice Girlish voice suits the song, as she mocks media messages that distract us from a suffering world. And in the grunge-tinted "Costume Makes the Clown," she tackles the growing pains of her own fame, declaring, "I'm not a virgin / but I'm not the whore you think / and I don't always smell like strawberries and cream." Her somewhat heavy-handed assertions are nevertheless timely and lyrical. Her "fixation" on wordplay is evident -- despite her teasing album cover, which suggests she may be orally inclined toward something else: Posing as Eve, she clutches the forbidden fruit.
An accomplished Spanish songwriter, Shakira also writes surprisingly well in English. But she and executive producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, System of a Down, Johnny Cash) have littered the 11-track album with occasionally unoriginal and awkward hooks. The chorus of the Merseybeat "Hey You" bears an uncanny resemblance to Petula Clark's "Downtown" refrain, while "Illegal," featuring Carlos Santana, is generic and forgettable. Maybe because the songs are in English rather than Spanish, the music gives way to more Anglo pop and rock beats. But this wasn't the case on "Laundry Service," where many of her English songs were drenched in Andean and Arabic flair.
It's clear that Shakira is casting a wide net to experiment with different beats. Yet "Oral Fixation Vol. 2" lacks the effortless flow that complements her signature sound in previous records. In the meantime, we'll keep the belly dancing on the back burner, take up some head-banging and wait for her to build upon her fixation.