FIJACION ORAL VOL. 1
Shakira's 2001 English-language breakthrough, "Laundry Service," transformed her from a Colombian pop star to a hip-swiveling stateside ingenue. Four years and one tepid remix album later, Shakira returns to her native language with "Fijacion Oral Vol. 1" (roughly translated: "Oral Fixation").
Sung entirely in Spanish but plainly targeted to U.S. audiences, "Fijacion" is a frank, likable Latin pop album that combines Shakira's twin preoccupations -- synth-heavy '80s pop and '70s classic rock. Though "Laundry Service" launched a thousand Charo comparisons, Shakira really has more in common with Madonna, another artist who doesn't so much create albums as bend them to her will. And like Madonna, she's an expert appropriator of au courant musical styles, in this case reggaeton, the painfully current fusion of reggae, hip-hop and salsa that serves as the backdrop of "La Tortura," a duet with Alejandro Sanz. Busy and brisk, it's certainly the best single all year to be based around an accordion riff.
Nothing else on "Fijacion" is as captivating or as ambitious: There's old-school bossa nova ("Obtener Un Si"), ballads both spartan ("No") and breathy ("En Tus Pupilas") and guitar rock ("Escondite Ingles") reminiscent of the best tracks on "Laundry Service."
Non-Spanish speakers wooed by Shakira's previous U.S. hits will find that her lyrics, alternately philosophical and florid, and briefly sung in French, have neither gained nor lost much in translation.
For the less adventurous, "Volume 2," which features a different group of tracks sung in English, is set for release in November.
-- Allison Stewart
ANorwegian lass with blond locks and a smile open to interpretation, Annie has become an unlikely underground phenomenon with "Anniemal," an airy, squiggly pop album that has been licked up and down by excited music bloggers and hip gatekeepers not otherwise inclined to go for, say, Kylie Minogue. Annie's reception says a lot about perceptions and prejudices haunting the very idea of "pop," but the album -- for good and for ill -- doesn't really support much in the way of thinking.
Annie first caught on with "Chewing Gum," a sassy single in which she rolls her eyes at boys who are stuck to her shoe. "Oh no, you've got it all wrong / You think you're chocolate when you're chewing gum," she sings, minting a new putdown for playgrounds and martini bars alike. The music beneath her is antic electro-pop that hints at dance music but twitches more than it glides.
The weird, lurching backgrounds of "Anniemal" -- produced by the likes of English ace Richard X and a member of Norwegian electro-pop act Royksopp -- give Annie's songs a weight that she sheepishly shies away from. There's subtle sadness in the otherwise loved-up dance whoosh of "My Heartbeat," but mostly, Annie just floats and bobs through songs about nights out and "having fun at the top of the pops." Her vacuousness as a vocalist thrills and vexes; it's easy to hear any and everything in her timid coo, but it's just as easy to hear nothing much at all.
-- Andy Battaglia