If I say I love Shakira, there may be one or two people who know me that might be surprised, but probably they already know too. (Certainly anyone who has ever gotten drunk with me is aware, given that for some reason one of my favourite topics of drunk conversation is how, while Shakira and her footballer boyfriend Gerard Piqué are a cute couple, she is a goddess and could still do so much better). Anyway, my adoration of her makes me predisposed to love anything she does, including her new, eponymous album. Still, even stepping away from my massive bias, I can say with certainty that Shakira is weird and wonderful and great.
Although there are a few of her songs that I adore in any language, I’ve always preferred Shakira’s Spanish music to her English songs, whether it is because the lyrics make more sense when not translated to fit the melody or just because I think her voice is meant for the language. I wish there were more Spanish songs on this album, but “Loca por Ti” is a gorgeous track that reminds me of Sale el Sol. And I definitely prefer the Spanish version of her first single, “Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte,” to the English.
That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Shakira’s English music nearly as much. I immediately loved her second single, “Empire,” and so far it remains my favourite track on the album. It reminds me in a way of a James Bond theme in the way it starts slow and relies on Shakira’s vocals to soar. Surprisingly, a song I really enjoyed upon first listen was “Medicine,” the country track featuring Shakira’s The Voice co-judge Blake Shelton. Although I’m generally not a fan of country music or Shelton’s work in particular, Shakira’s famous vibrato is perfect for the genre and she harmonises well with Shelton; it’s not a great song, but it’s so earnest I find myself liking it anyway. Another track I love is “Chasing Shadows,” written by Sia, with the blend of beauty and quirkiness that is pretty much the epitome of all things Shak.
A few of the songs are cringe-worthy on the level of Taylor Swift’s most preteen-obsessive: mainly “23,” the track most obviously written about Piqué, and the bland but probably radio-friendly “Spotlight.” While Shakira has had some notably weird lyrics in the past (“lucky that my breasts are small and humble so you don’t confuse them with mountains“), “Girl meets a boy / surrender to his charms / leaves her old boyfriend / and crumbles in his arms” aren’t interesting enough to be memorable, and the music sounds more like it could fit into Swift’s Red than Shakira’s oeuvre.
Others suffer from similarities to previous, superior works, like the duet with Rihanna, “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” which I can’t help but compare unfavourably to her “Beautiful Liar” duet with Beyonce. On the other hand, while “Dare (La La La)” is meant to be this World Cup’s “Waka Waka (Esto es Africa)” and it’s not as good as that (because let’s face it, there aren’t many songs better than “Waka Waka” and you’re lying to yourself if you don’t love it) I can still see myself listening to it on repeat while running, cleaning, doing homework… in pretty much all aspects of my life, as I do the earlier track.
Musically, the album has more interesting sounds than some of her recent work. As mentioned, there’s the country song, but on other tracks its a Caribbean vibe that reflects Shakira’s Barranquilla Colombian heritage, a power-rock sound on others, a few stripped-down ballads, and the usual bellydance-worthy pop music.
As promised, I’m reviewing the new CDs of both of my favourite Colombian musicians to release albums this month (admittedly, the only two Colombian musicians I listen to, as far as I know). Juanes doesn’t exactly hold the same place in my heart as Shakira does, but I think anyone who has ever studied Spanish loves him a little bit and has listened to “La Camisa Negra” more times than they can count… and I love him a lot more than that.
Unlike Shakira, Juanes rarely if ever sings in English, and apart from a few phrases on “Radio Elvis,” Loco de Amor (Crazy for Love) is entirely in Spanish. But as my mother, who accompanied me to one of the musician’s concerts last year, can attest, you don’t need to know the language to enjoy the songs. There’s a little bit of social issues, a little rock and a little dance, and a lot of love—typical Juanes. Music-wise, while there are songs whose styles will sound familiar to long-time listeners, Juanes also bridges new genres and tries different styles with the help of rock producer Steve Lillywhite.
My favourite tracks on the album are “Persiguiendo el Sol,” a song whose opening sounds inspired by Southern rock and seems meant for listening to in the sun with the breeze in your hair; and “La Luz“, which has a strong, cheerful, danceable beat that reminds me of one of my favourite Juanes songs, “Me Enamora.” In fact, the album as a whole is upbeat, lighter than his past few, and the ratio of electric to acoustic is higher. The result is joyful listening that still has the musical complexity, the lyrical strength, and the overall charisma para los que lo amamos.