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Record Review: Nelly Furtado

This story was published July 16, 2006 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

The opening lyrics on Nelly Furtado’s newest album, Loose are “What to say / what to say / what to say / what to say.”

This not only sets the lyrical tone for the CD, but also underscores the confusion and lack of inspiration in the record as a whole.

When considering how to describe the style on Furtado’s latest, I found myself dropping names faster than Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

Furtado sounds alternately like Madonna, Fergie (of Black Eyed Peas) and Cyndi Lauper. The most obvious comparisons, however, are to Gwen Stefani and Gloria Estafan; their influences bred in Furtado a pouty-voiced little monster I’ve begun calling call Estefani. In almost every song, Furtado uses heavy vocal effects that give off a teched-up vibe. After you get used to the filters, echoes and strange feeling that you’ve heard this song before, Loose’s biggest flaw becomes clear — Furtado doesn’t have a voice of her own.

She’s trying to be too much with this album. From the smoky-eyed sex kitten photographs in the liner notes to the lyrics like “Move your body around like a nympho” and the CD’s aptly-titled single, “Promiscuous,” it’s obvious that Furtado wants America to appreciate her wild side. Yet, she’s also got a heavy hand with religious references, as in Loose’s tenth track, “In God’s Hands.” It is a piano ballad that would make Vanessa Carlton proud, and it comes on the heels of a previous song’s slowly-rapped cadence, “I see God in the trees / makes me fall on my knees… / It hurts so bad that I can’t dry my eyes / Cause they keep on refilling with the tears that I cry.”

It’s like she found a shoebox under the bed and rediscovered the worst of her teenage poetry. Her truly horrific lyric writing aside, Furtado’s been around the scene long enough to know that nothing good can come out of crafting an image that tries to be God girl and bad girl.

Out of the album’s 13 tracks, rapper/producer Timbaland had a hand in nine of them. He laid down some truly sweet beats, and the rhymes in “Promiscuous” have already become a staple of the summer club-going scene. Yet, for all his percussive worth, it would take more than some dope drumming to make this CD worthwhile. I ask of you: If a tree falls in the Timabaland, will fans hear it?

A new Furtado feature is her use of Spanish. “No Hay Igual” is a buzzy amalgamation of reggaeton, hip-hop and that quintessential Nelly nasality. It’s a nice touch, but not the saving grace she might have been hoping for. Things don’t get better if you just put them in another language. Clearly, she disagrees, because the next song features Latin sensation, Juanes. It almost grabs your ear, but falls short of being actually refreshing.

Folks, the good news is that Furtado still has a knack for melody. If you listen closely, in many songs there’s a little nugget of creativity that survived the processing to which she subjected the rest of her music. My favorite is the cool Simon and Garfunkel-inspired whistling and humming in the last track. Loose’s closing lyrics are “Flames to dust / lovers to friends / Why do all good things come to an end?”

The more pertinent question might be why didn’t this thing come to an end… 13 tracks ago?

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