CD: Nelly Furtado, Loose


Talking about her newfound enthusiasm for hip-hop and midriff-baring, Portuguese-Canadian singer Nelly Furtado has explained, in typically bizarre pop-star argot, that "this phase in my life is all about feel". Presumably, this phase in her life is also all about not repeating the commercial failure of 2003's chaotic Folklore album, and hip-hop and midriff-baring are a good way to ensure that. But whatever her motives, Loose is slick, smart and surprising - the first great pop album of the year.

Judging from the press release, it almost turned out like Gwen Stefani's Love Angel Music Baby, a shallow, ostentatious, something-for-everyone patchwork with more star cameos than a Robert Altman movie. Fortunately, less-is-more thinking prevailed: A-list collaborators such as Chris Martin and Pharrell Williams were dropped, and the reins handed to studio visionary Timbaland. Like a good tailor, Timbaland cuts his musical cloth to fit each singer, whether it's Missy Elliott, Aaliyah or Bubba Sparxxx. Here, he and co-producer Danja colour huge, walloping beats and minor-chord, robo-metal riffs with the 1980s electro-soul drama of Shannon and the club-kid effervescence of a young Madonna.

Compared with the sententious, one-world guff on Folklore, Furtado's current concerns are somewhat more carnal, and advertised with all the subtlety of a flashing neon sign outside a Las Vegas strip joint. But unlike Liz Phair or Jewel, both of whom traded singer-songwriter sincerity for lip-licking pop and lived to regret it, her fun never sounds forced. She delivers the irresistible hooks of Maneater, Promiscuous and Do It with punchy, playful charisma rather than breathy cooing.

In the past, her vocal shape-shifting has been as much a curse as a blessing; here it's employed with canny restraint. She raps in Portuguese over No Hay Igual's taut reggaeton rhythm, croons affectingly on the understated ballad Say It Right and wails "It's the end of the world as we know it" like an inebriated ghost on the peculiar gothic R&B of Afraid. In every way (especially if you hated I'm Like a Bird), Loose exceeds expectations. Most female pop stars try to emulate Madonna at some point; very few do it with such panache.


Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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