Conventional wisdom states that you shouldn’t review a record after it’s already been in stores for more than a month (overseas, anyway), but when the record in question has been described as “endearingly bonkers” and “fantastically strange” and leads with an Italian-disco-indebted first single that features the word “lycanthropy,” well, sometimes you have to ignore conventional wisdom and just go for it.
So, yes, this is my take on [artist id=”330″]Shakira’s[/artist] She Wolf (which hits stores here in the U.S. next week with a surplus of bonus tracks), a slinky, sexy, spirited pop/disco bonbon that’s all hips and lips and handclaps, with the occasional cowbell or clarinet (or mouth trumpet/ electro urchin/ Matt Damon shout-out) sprinkled in for good measure. It’s every bit as good as the reviews advertised, and roughly 50 percent more batsh– crazy than I ever could have imagined.
So, yes, this is a great pop record, certainly one of the year’s finest (right up there with Lily Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You and Kelly Clarkson’s All I Ever Wanted ), and, yes, hearing Shakira bleat lines like “I gotta say, California is a place that I respect” or “I hope the French fleas eat you both alive” is endlessly entertaining. But what I really enjoyed most about She Wolf is that, for all the ephemera buzzing in/on/around it, it’s really a pretty straightforward, oddly personal record — a fascinating, funky, fun one at that.
Because, at its core, She Wolf is simply Shakira’s attempt at making an electro-pop record. And the songs presented here are her versions of dance music: mutated, genre- (and era-) hopping, poly-national tunes, written by a Colombian pop star who’s fluent in English, Portuguese and Italian, tinkered with by a globe-spanning squad of producers (the Neptunes, Timbaland, Wyclef, John Hill, Amanda Ghost, etc.). It’s music that couldn’t have existed in any other era — a very 21st-century, global thing — made by a woman whose career wouldn’t have been possible at any other time in history.
Which is how we end up with songs like “She Wolf” — the batty first single that slinks along on an Italo-disco line (it was written by Hill and Sam Endicott from the Bravery ) and features Shakira howling at the moon (and comparing herself to a coffee machine) — and “Long Time,” which is buoyed by a Roma-esque clarinet breakdown. It certainly explains songs like “Good Stuff,” electronic genie music that transforms into “La Isla Bonita” in the chorus, or the excellent “Men in This Town,” a tune that starts in California but finishes up as a disco tune on Jupiter (it’s also where Shakira openly pines for Matt Damon, for the record).
So, basically, it’s not a stretch to call She Wolf Shakira’s most personal album. This is dance music, as she hears it in her head, with no filters added. And that goes doubly for the lyrics, which are riddled with guilt (“Did It Again”) and spite (the biting “Mon Amour,” which closes with her singing/speaking, “Passengers with destination to hell, we are ready to board now”) and — most of all — lust (“Long Time,” “Why Wait,” “Spy”). These are imperfect emotions, and she’s unashamed to be feeling them. In fact, this is probably her confessional.
Of course, that’s all nerdy music-journo crap. The real power of She Wolf lies in its ability to pack dance floors. Of the 10 songs on the record — the U.S. version comes with six additional tracks, three of which are reworked versions of songs already on the album, two of which are live tracks and one of which features Lil Wayne — only one (“Gypsy”) isn’t an immediate, rousing hip-shaker, which makes it one of the most party-ready, blissed-out listens of the year.
This is impressive, undeniable stuff: deeply personal pop for everyone. There’s a she-wolf (or, perhaps a wolf-man) inside us all, and this is the soundtrack to his/her Saturday night. Or, as Shakira puts it: “Awoooooooooo!”
Questions? Concerns? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.