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Album Reviews: Loose by Nelly FurtadoDuring a promotional stop at MTV a while back, Nelly Furtado clowned around and showed off her good-natured imitations of Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette and Britney Spears. On Loose, and its accompanying promotional blitz, she's keen on showing off another side of herself (namely, the midriff), but, upon closer scrutiny, it seems like a fairly benign sexual revolution -- just another case of harmless play-acting, really.
This is wrapped up in lead single "Promiscuous," an ode to sexual freedom that is so sanitary, it's being used to hawk cell phones on TV. Even the very word "Promiscuous" feels clinical and maybe even a little cowardly (what, "Slutty" wouldn't get airplay?). No mistake about it, the beat will get the hips shaking, and the song's sheer ubiquity will win a lot of listeners over simply by attaching itself to pleasant summer memories. But Timbaland, for all his producing and hitmaking glory, is a pretty lousy rapper -- like a poor man's Nate Dogg -- and he sounds like a big teddy bear when he warns, "Girl, I'm a freak, you shouldn't say those things!" Furtado, meanwhile, sounds like a vampy, breathy teenybopper as she flirts back. Lil' Kim and 50 Cent it ain't.
But now for the good news: Even though the big single is a bit of a bust, Loose still deserves its seemingly preordained place as one of the definitive pop albums of the year -- because there's still plenty of fruit left hanging on the singles tree. "Maneater," which has already burned up the UK charts, trumps "Promiscuous," featuring a sassier vocal and a grimier beat that is a better fit for the look-at-me libido of the lyrics.
Maybe it's just projection, but Furtado sounds like she's connecting more with the songs when she's vowing to wait for you until the end of the world ("Wait For You") than when she's speak-singing about how everybody wants to sleep with her. Furtado is hard to pin down as a singer, and she uses it to her advantage, particularly when she lets her personality push through. She sings, she raps, she does smooth R&B a la TLC, and sometimes she just talks. She and Timbaland don't retrace many of their steps; it's always on to the next experiment.
"Wait For You" combines Furtado's most expressive vocal with propulsive thump from Timbaland and a distinctive Middle Eastern backdrop that is reminiscent of Natacha Atlas. "Do It," meanwhile, heads straight for the church of Madonna and Janet (and even a little Michael). The aim on both tracks is true, and they're both steady additions to party playlists, along with "Maneater" and "Glow."
There are some real clunkers, too, like a formulaic Latin music duet with Juanes ("Te Busque") and a soggy, American Idol-ready ballad that was doomed as soon as it was called "In God's Hands." Most frustrating is opener "Afraid," which gets off to a great start by sounding musically sinister and lyrically self-helpy -- an interesting juxtaposition -- but then derails halfway through with an utterly anonymous rap verse from, um, Attitude (even the dude's name is forgettable), and, far more exasperating, a children's choir that handles the chorus for the final 30 seconds before breaking up into cutesy laughter. An industry-wide moratorium should be declared on this sort of thing. Besides, the grown-ups have some sexin' to do -- who invited the kids? - Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert
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