Loose, Nelly Furtado
In “Promiscuous,” the first single off Loose, Nelly Furtado coos and bats her eyelashes through racy lyrics like, “Get you on my level, do you think that you can handle it?” while Timbaland does his best to keep up with her tantalizing sweet nothings. It’s a departure from the Canadian-born Furtado that we’ve known for the past six years, and who, in some respects and on occasion, came off as slightly a-sexual – but if this is her version of branching out as an artist, it works.
We first met Furtado as a bright-eyed twenty-two year old songstress, who had just released her debut album, Whoa, Nelly! (2000). “I’m Like A Bird” was an instant success, and “Shit on The Radio” and “Turn Off the Light,” while admittedly being mostly revered in Canada, still made her a formidable force in the music industry. Then: Folklore (2003). After giving birth to her daughter, Furtado released her sophomore effort, a decidedly folksy, quirky and mature album that barely made a peep on the public radar. “Powerless (Say What You Want),” her first single, was a relative success, but other songs form the album failed to capture interest, save for “Forca,” which was penned as the official song for the 2004 European Football Championship, and “Try,” which I liked very much and which probably makes me the only person who has heard it from beginning to end.
After a three-year hiatus, Furtado hit the studio with Timbaland in tow, and the two worked on Loose. Timbaland ends up getting producer credit on ten of the twelve tracks, and is featured on the current hit “Promiscuous.” Indeed, if Loose had been renamed, surely The Nelly & Timbaland Show would have been an apt first choice. But pairing up with Timbaland, a seasoned producer as well as a veteran artist, was a wise decision; Timbaland adds much-needed funk and a smooth production style that the beat-heavy songs need. In fact, the non-Timbaland produced songs are some of the weaker ones on this album. At times, the tracks are so slick they’re shiny – and on occasion, we can’t even hear Furtado’s soft voice over all the background hoopla – but overall, Loose manages to blend different sounds and genres into a big palette of good times.
Furtado describes Loose as an experiment in “punk hop,” and explains her choice of made-up words thusly: “[it’s] modern, poppy, spooky music.” There’s nothing spooky about Loose, except maybe for “Showtime,” but there is a lot of hip-hop, R&B, Latin, and 80’s influenced music going on. Furtado cites TLC, System of A Down, and Death From Above 1979 as inspiration for her recording process, and this become clear as R&B-infused ballads and distorted bass lines figure heavily on several tracks. In a four-way marketing assault, four singles were released before Loose was set to hit stores: "No Hay Igual" in the United States, "Promiscuous" and “Maneater” in North America, and “Te Busqué” in Spain. “Maneater” afforded Furtado her first number one hit in the UK, and the album’s debut landed her in first place in Canada and the U.S.
Loose starts off strong with “Afraid,” an inspirational track set to synthesizers and frantic club beats. The simple chorus, which is repeated almost ad nauseum lest we forget, is catchy and reels in the song. “So afraid of what people might say, but that’s OK, you’re only human,” Furtado chants, and after several listens, I wrap her comforting words around me like a blanket. Attitude lends a hand with a small verse, but the track falls apart near the end when about one hundred children start joining in the chorus, and then kind of ruin it by giggling once the music fades. This lends a surreal and forced experience to the song, and I know it sounds heartless to say this because children are our future, but that’s why I also don’t listen to Nas’ “I Think I Can.”
Similarly, “Maneater” and “Glow” follow in the tradition of modernized 80’s retreads, and were both produced by Timbaland (I think it’s safe to say that when I describe a song as “80’s influenced,” we can assume that Timbaland had a hand in it). These tracks are also impressive, with “Maneater” trumping both the funky “Glow” and the suave “Promiscuous.” In “Maneater,” high hats accentuate the strong beat while Furtado sing-talks her way through. Although it’s very reminiscent of Gwen Stefani’s shriek-and-stomp singing style in “Hollerback Girl,” it’s much more enjoyable to listen to and it’s much more plausible when Furtado spouts off words of bravado like, “And when she walks she walks with passion / When she talks, she talks like she can handle it / When she asks for something, boy she means it / Even if you never ever seen it.”
After “Glow,” the album starts slipping dramatically. “Showtime” is a slow song that just kind of sits there and drones on with no end in sight, and is shrouded in unoriginal lyrics like, “So afraid of what people might say / But can’t you see it’s a game they play / Trying to cast a shadow on our love.” Sometimes I really do miss the tame but articulate Furtado of Folklore. All I can discern is that “Showtime” is a song about a secret relationship that Furtado can’t wait to spread the word about, and although it’s one of my least favourites on the project, it does showcase Furtado’s refined voice as she channels TLC’s “Red Light Special” creamy-smooth R&B purring.
“No Hai Igual” is sung in Spanish, and trades in the studio remixing for stripped-down Latin beats. Fast-paced, the song presents Furtado with another chance to impress us with her sing-rapping skills. It’s a fun track, but on the whole is as a throwaway song. In “Te Busqué,” which features Latin artist Juanes, Furtado again slows things down and turns out a sweet ballad that seems jarringly displaced on this album. I have no idea what this bittersweet song is about, and when Furtado sings, “My life, locked in a trunk / When it hurt way too much / I needed a reason to live / So much love inside me to give / I couldn’t resist, I had to keep on searching,” I can only guess that it has something to do with her daughter, a beau, a mystical and spiritual journey through a mountain, or a can of Coke.
Things get back on track with “Say It Right,” which features a clapping beat and is infused with so much 80’s inspiration that I can’t help but fall in love with the track. Again, lyrics like, “I can say that I’m not lost and found” and “I can say that I don’t love the light and dark” mean nothing to me outside of the fact that Furtado’s good at word association games, but the track is so delicious that everything rights itself in the end. “In God’s Hands,” on the other hand, is just plain slow, and has no discernible melody or beat until the chorus. It’s surprising that Furtado didn’t fall asleep while singing, but she’s a trooper. “Wait For You” is a passable single with strapping R&B rhythms, but ultimately plays out like a stalker-friendly song. “I know you’re trying to get around me baby. I know you’ve got me in your heart baby,” Furtado threatens her paramour. “I know that you could love me, if you only had a guarantee.” Luckily, there is no mention of cooking beloved household pets in large pots. The earnest yearning (or stalker tendencies) that “Wait For You” calls for doesn’t quite jive with Furtado’s maturity, and could have benefited from a rewrite or two.
The album appropriately closes with “All Good Things (Must Come To An End),” a duet with Coldplay’s Chris Martin. I have to admit that despite my bias against Coldplay, this is one of my favourite songs from Loose. A folksy ditty with rampant flutes and swaying beats, “All Good Things (Must Come To An End)” is repetitively melancholy, and Martin does amazing backing vocals. The monotony is broken when Furtado nonsensically sings, “When the dogs are whistling a new tune / Looking at the new moon / Hoping it would come soon / So that it could die.” I briefly wondered if these lyrics were pilfered from a mental patient, but they were probably penned by Martin, who has shown a penchant for outlandish allegory over logic in his own work.
There were six bonus tracks distributed to different parts of the world. The ballad “What I Wanted,” the R&B “Let My Hair Down,” and the Latin “Somebody To Love” made their way to the Japanese release, and “Let My Hair Down” is the better of the three. Although Furtado basically talk-sings her way through, it’s a fun song with lazy, pounding beats. “What I Wanted” lags at time but easily highlights Furtado’s pipes – which are, for once, not overwhelmed by studio production.
As promised in the title, Furtado has really let loose for her third foray into the charts. Loose is an entertaining album that never loses energy, and the effortless fusion of musical styles that Furtado manipulates illustrates her growth as both an artist and entertainer. As Loose gains momentum and fans, it seems like the world is finally discovering what we knew all along. ¤ C.Ho.
LOOSE: (out of 5)