After Nelly Furtado’s debut album, Whoa, Nelly!
experienced overdue breakout success, the world of pop music became her oyster. By sticking to her guns instead of conforming to the mainstream formula for success, audiences worldwide accepted and embraced her homegrown blend of quirky, genre-mashed, self-indulgent pop music.
Such acceptance and support gave Nelly the valid right to enrich her music via experimentation and expansion of her musical palette. Instead, Nelly opted to take her acceptance for granted and delved into quirkier, more self-indulgent territory on her sophomore release, Folklore. Extolling the virtues and perils of superstardom over rather pedantic world-beats made for a dour listen and as a result, the album tanked and interest in the future of Nelly’s career waned all across the board.
So if Whoa, Nelly! was self-indulgence gone right and Folklore was self-indulgence gone wrong, then what is Loose? Self-indulgence gone away. Despite what Ms. Furtado might state repeatedly in interviews, Loose is the “damage control” album of her career designed to re-attract the mainstream’s attention and re-generate interest in her career. Just consider it an amazing payoff that the album is chock-full of some damn good music.
Nelly managed to ink a deal with hip-hop producer impresario Timbaland’s Mosley Music Group imprint and enlisted him to oversee 95% of the album’s production. This definitely works to her advantage as Tim takes Furtado’s featherweight soprano (which borders on nasally flat from time-to-time) and blends it well within the frame of his elaborate arrangements instead of having such robust creations overpower her slender vocals. Her voice is his instrument and he plays her quite well.
The album sounds to be about evenly split between fun, frothy dance tracks and mellow, solemn numbers and for the most part, the two balance each other out quite nicely. Afraid is a rather solemn, rock-tinged opener with the just right dosage of quirk injected to help ease Nelly Furtado diehards into the sound of the new album. The song is basically Nelly promoting the concept of taking chances in life with disregard for outside opinions and works as a subliminal message to the listener that Nelly hopes they accept her newfound musical direction and not criticize her for it.
Maneater quickly lightens the mood with its throbbing drumkicks and pulsating synths working as an eargasmic, club-ready chant summoning Nelly’s inner sex kitten to come out and smugly boast about her sexual prowess. Promiscuous is fun and frothy at its finest and a prime summertime single.
Nelly and Tim’s quick-witted t?te-?-t?te about casual sex is ingenious within the context of the record and the duo paying an unspoken homage to the Purple One’s classic on-wax banter between him and his assorted female vocalists of years past is icing on the cake. And Nelly’s other attempt at flexing her newfound emcee skills, No Hay Igual – almost completely in Spanish no less – works well from a musical standpoint, thanks to Tim’s trademark stutter-step drumpad, and would’ve probably sounded best as an instrumental.
Glow, Do It and Wait For You are the album’s remaining fun, frothy moments of sheer synth-driven, buzz-drummed, computerized-swirl excitement with playful vocals and earnest lyrics from Nelly in the perfect places. What’s left are the album’s turns at (feigned) serious musicianship.
Showtime is the album’s strongest ballad due to the percussive backdrop being contrasted with heartfelt strings and Nelly’s tender vocal taking center stage. Tu Busque is Nelly’s collabo with Latin superstar Juanes and while the verses are inspired due to Nelly’s smooth vocal edged in pain being exercised with a clear-eyed lyric, Juanes’ hook cheapens the overall emotional impact and makes the record a bit too “pop” for its own good.
Say It Right may be the album highlight due to its dark, meditative mood and emotional lyric being heightened by the sheer gravity of Tim’s ominous yet comforting atmosphere. In God’s Hands could be seen as a vapid, generic pop ballad devoid of genuine emotion or as a honest, pensive pop ballad injected with the perfect dose of detached emotion – the kind a song about love lost calls for.
And then there’s All Good Things (Come To An End). Tim constructs what may be his most “pop” and “un-Timbaland” sounding creation to date, complete with acoustic guitars, handclaps and flutes, while Nelly muses on the circle of life and essentially brings the album full circle. It started with an inkling of Nelly from the past, then proceeded to roll through Nelly’s chameleonic evolution as a dance-pop songstress before comfortably resting right back on the heels of Nelly’s self-indulgent, quirky pop.
If there’s any qualms to be had about Loose, it’s the fact that all throughout, Nelly sounds like she’s trying. And while it’s apparent (and appreciated) that she gave 100%, it’s also evident that recording (mostly) this entire sound and style of music isn’t a natural process for her. It’s not an effortless experience and could potentially make the listener feel a bit duped.
That being said, the chemistry between Nelly and Tim cannot be denied. Not since the days of Aaliyah has Tim sounded so in-synch with an artist’s voice and artistic vision and subsequently created such an individual, cutting-edge sound. This entire M.O. may not come natural for Furtado and she may still sound her best as a quirky, self-indulgent singer-songwriter but she has more than proven that even the quirkiest deserve to cut Loose every once in a while.