Review Summary: Extraño. Muy extraño.
What a decade it’s been. If you’d have told someone in 2000 that good-looking girl who sings that song about wanting to be a bird would evolve into one of pop music’s biggest mavericks, you probably would not have been allowed another word in said person’s presence. But so it was – the singer, songwriter, producer and mother we know as Nelly Furtado has achieved somewhat of a notorious reputation for doing what she wants, how she wants and when she wants. Her three studio records up to this point – 2000’s Whoa Nelly!
, 2003’s Folklore
and 2006’s Loose
– each convey a different side to this multi-talented enigma. Even now, in the face of her commercial peak (Timbaland really does know the way to reach the top of the charts), Furtado couldn’t care less about writing a hit. No, sir; now is a better time than ever to record an entire record in Spanish.
Let that sink in for a second. “Search your feelings”, to quote a classic. Still confused? Well, get used to it. It’s going to be hanging around like a bad smell all the way through Mi Plan
, Furtado’s fourth studio album. You’ll be more than happy to appreciate some of the lovely arrangements here, and the even lovelier vocals throughout. Even still, this is the kind of curveball that’s difficult to knock out of the park.
is an album rich in culture. After all, it’s not every day a Canadian makes a pop album in a language other than English in studios in Toronto, Miami and Madrid; with guest spots from artists as diverse as Alex Cuba and Josh Groban. It is an ambitious project, you must hand it to Furtado regardless of your opinion on the rest of her body of work. And there is a lot to like about the record, even if it takes a few spins to properly settle in. Her pronunciation and delivery, for example, is absolutely gorgeous. This woman can literally say a phrase as casual as “¿Qué pasa?” and it sounds as natural as any seductive lady Spaniard. There’s still an infestation of hooks, too – just because there’s a good chance you have no idea what Nelly is singing, don’t doubt for a second you’ll be forgetting the choruses of songs like “Más” or the album’s title track anytime soon.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the excitement of just how different Furtado can be to run dry, leaving a sagging string of songs that are just plain boring in any language. And it’s not just the sappy ballads like “Sueños” or “Silencio”, either. The downright cheesy “Vacación”, complete with bizarre accordion and quasi-reggae swagger, sounds like a Spanish comedian parodying something from Gwen Stefani’s first solo record. Additionally, whoever’s bright idea it was to mix beautiful flamenco guitar and Concha Buika’s marvellous crooning with electro-pop production on the anachronistic “Fuerte” should be placed in a corner to think about what they’ve done. The occasional misstep is forgivable on any pop record, but there are moments here that more or less swerve off the path completely, hitting a tree somewhere nearby.
A lot of time, effort, ambition and soul went into Mi Plan
. There is substantial evidence of this from the get-go. It’s sad, then, that far too much time is spent playing it safe; whereas it could have been spent wholeheartedly embracing the possibilities the project presented itself with. Maybe try for a single or EP in Spanish next time, Nelly? “Hit-and-miss” is not the kind of redeeming quality one wants in a record – no matter how you sing it.