IF LADY GAGA thought she was the craziest woman in the music business, she should probably take a listen to Shakira‘s “She Wolf” to fully understand her competition. Or, at least try to.
Because while Gaga has made a name for herself with wacky outfits and blood-splattered performances, Shakira’s third English studio album, “She Wolf,” is one of the most bizarrely catchy albums of 2009.
Punctuated by her heavy vocal panting, driven by an electro-pop sound masterminded by The Neptunes and chock full of lyrics about doing the nasty, this is not an album you want to play in the car with your mom. In fact, this is probably an album you should listen to all alone, in your bedroom, where you can safely let the she wolf out of the closet. After all, she’s got to breathe.
While her sound has always been driven by tribal rhythms, she adds funk and electro-pop into the mix, and though her lyrics have always been somewhat peculiar (remember “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble / So you don’t confuse them with mountains” from “Whenever, Wherever?“), they take a heavily sexual turn on nearly all of the album’s tracks. She wolf in heat, perhaps?
Things start off with the album’s title track and first single, “She Wolf.” If you haven’t heard the song by now, then you live under a rock — infectiously danceable and wonderfully funky, the song takes disco and smacks it on the head, rejuvenating the much-hated genre with a sense of puppy-like playfulness. Plus, any woman who can work the word “lycanthropy” into lyrics and compare her feelings of emotional and physical abuse to “a coffee machine in an office” automatically earns our respect.
And that combination of lustful-yet-frustrated lyrics and club-ready instrumentation continues throughout the entire album, as Shakira both complains about pursuing the wrong men and swears she’d do anything to make them happy. For example, on the original version of “Did It Again” (the song also has a remix with Kid Cudi, which is the album’s last track), Shakira describes an affair in a hotel room that “smells like danger” but is “even better” for it. She wails lines like “I’m in trouble, but it feels like heaven” in the throaty timber that has earned her the “Goat Woman” moniker, and when juxtaposed against The Neptunes’ fast-paced layers of synths and keyboards, the song hits electro-pop gold.
Oh, there are lots of moans in there, too — just as they are on the thumpingly tribal “Long Time,” which has The Neptunes using pounding drums and yelled call-and-response sections to channel some ethnic flair; the bass-heavy, heavily Middle-Eastern-sounding “Why Wait,” on which Shakira assures her lover, “There’s nothing in the world / You can think of / That I won’t do to you;” and “Good Stuff,” which borrows some Indian and Brazilian rhythms to help Shakira deliver her rapid-fire lyrics about how “the grass is much greener with us on it” and she’ll “show you something you don’t know.”
As soon as The Neptunes are out of the production picture, though, “She Wolf” takes a turn for the worse. First there’s the weirdly Matt Damon-bashing “Men in This Town,” in which Shakira angrily proclaims, “The good ones are gone or not able / And Matt Damon’s not meant for me / Damon’s not meant for me, dammit!” If that random burst against Will Hunting wasn’t enough, the song then breaks down into a random rapping section, where Shakira spits “I’m so fresh, I’m so clean” over and over again, and ends with some totally unlistenable high-pitched lyrics about how “It’s a suicide waiting all this time.” Four minutes of your life you won’t get back.
Similarly intolerable are “Gypsy,” in which both Shakira’s lyrics about how she might “steal your clothes and wear them if they fit me” and the guitar-plucking instrumentation are overwhelmingly annoying; the slinky “Spy,” which teams her with Wyclef Jean but isn’t nearly as good as their “Hips Don’t Lie” collaboration because of some infuriating “ba-ba-ba” vocal effects that we guess are supposed to sound like a saxophone but are just brain-bashingly awful instead; and “Mon Amour,” which would be a sufficiently Alanis Morissette-copying girl anthem if it didn’t sound just like Shakira’s older single “Don’t Bother.”
And unless you’re really itching to listen to “Did It Again,” “Why Wait” and “She Wolf” in Spanish, “Lo Hecho Esta Hecho,” “Anos Luz” and “Loba” are just a waste of time until Shakira’s dalliances into hip-hop, “Give It Up to Me” featuring Lil Wayne and the “Did It Again” remix with Kid Cudi. The former, though, is far better than the latter, and you can thank Lil Wayne and Timbaland for that — the producer brings his trademark genre-bending instrumentation to the track, and Lil Wayne’s verse (which includes lines like “I’m the cashier, I change girls / You can go up my crane, girl / And I’mma go down that drain, girl”) counters nicely with Shakira’s soaring chorus of “You can have it all / Anything you want, you can make it yours / Anything you want in the world.” Kid Cudi, however, bores with his verse on the “Did It Again” remix — lines like “So sweet, so wet / The kitty cat” are sufficiently dirty, but doesn’t really jive with this whole “she wolf” theme.
If it weren’t for Pharrell and Co., “She Wolf” would be nothing more than a hodge-podge of random tracks — thanks to The Neptunes, however, the album is quite certainly one of the most ferocious — and forthrightly sexy — of the year. Just put the she wolf back in the closet during most of the album’s second half, and you’ll be fine.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photos by Rainer Jensen/AFP/Getty Images, Jemal Countess/Getty Images