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Shakira: Sale El Sol
After a career of producing albums in Spanish and English, 33-year-old Colombian superstar Shakira recently launched her latest album, which transitions frequently between languages, and pairs her hard-edged vocals and bubble-gum, sexy pop image with her signature blend of Latin beats and sultry guitar strings. As a result, Sale el Sol/ The Sun Comes Out sounds like a mosaic of Shakira’s music over the past few decades.
It appears that Shakira has moved even closer to collaborators in the hip-hop world, working with the likes of British rapper Dizzee Rascal and Cuban-American Pitbull. Both are well-known as figures in the hard-knocks hip-hop context, so it may be a surprise to see them singing next to the shimmying hips and sunny smile of the ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ star; but oddly the combination works.
The first single of Sale el Sol, ‘Loca’ is a cover of an old hit by Dominican rapper El Cata, who sings along for the Spanish versions of ‘Loca’ and 'Rabiosa.' René Pérez of Calle 13 steps in for the upbeat rap ballad ‘Gordita,’ where Shakira shows more tongue-in-cheek humour than usual in her lyrics.
‘Mariposas’ (butterflies) is upbeat, poppy and elastic. ‘Lo Que Mas’ has Shakira flexing her vocals and belting out a satisfactorily melancholy ballad, while orchestral strains, piano keys and strings fill the song with notes of longing. ‘Rabiosa’ is brimming with sex appeal, accompanied by Pitbull’s lazy chuckle in the English version and a Latin horn section. While ‘Devocion’ changes the mood, with a deadpan rock n’ roll sound, hollow vocals and snares pounding out a ballad reminiscent of pure 90s rock.
The biggest surprise of the album is Shakira’s decision to cover The XX’s heart-wrenching love song 'Islands.' It takes a minute to put together the pieces; but the pop instrumentals are indeed strumming out the bass line of the UK band. We can only imagine that the pop singer was smitten with the tune, although an explanation would be helpful. Too young and fresh to be a classic, the cover may be an uncomfortable listen for fans of The XX’s original.
Bounding back onto her rightful pop pedestal, ‘Tu Boca’ takes us back to Shakira’s comfort zone of joyful odes in the form of pop rock.
Sale el Sol also features a slightly rock-heavy version of the World Cup hit ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’, the upbeat ode to the continent that aired to exhaustion during the World Cup frenzy this summer.
Featured at the end of the album, Shakira’s Spanish versions of the tracks come off as even more fun than the English versions; full of energy, charm and sincerity.
After a thorough listen, it’s difficult to discern exactly what Shakira does best. Does her power lie in the fact that she continues to make the 90s look fresh with her midriff-bearing gold lamé?
No, this singer has got chops, as pop cheesy and over-stylised as her material can get. Her voice is unique, her energy and presence are undeniable, and she moves like nobody else.
In eleven songs, they built a unique sound that you couldn't quite put your finger on: slow beats dressed in austerity, accompanied by enigmatic lyrics and lone wondering guitars. With a Mercury music prize under their belt and almost every music critic at their feet, they started work on their sophomore album.
But overall, this album is much less introverted. Both Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim seem to have gained confidence as singers and hone their vocal skills with more conviction then they did on their debut album.
Beatmaster Jamie xx, having built a very solid reputation as a producer in between the creation of the two albums, also steps closer to the limelight on this record. Even more songs than on the debut album are built on beats instead of a guitar riff and those beats are slightly more experimental than they previously were. There is even some steel drum - certainly not the hippest of instruments - seeping through in ‘Reunion’.
After his light-reggae hit ‘I’m Yours’, Jason Mraz has released his fourth album Love Is a Four Letter Word to further establish his image as a fun, peace-loving, the-world-is-a-wonderful-place kind of artist. In an album where the larger share of words revolve around love, he manages to do just that, failing to avoid, however, that seemingly unavoidable curse of cheesy lyrics.
What some might see traditional and romantic, others might easily see as outdated and heavily repetitive. ‘I Won’t Give Up’, with its quiet guitar riffs and pertinent backing vocals, gives considerable space for Mraz’s own vocals to show but let’s be hones; “When I look into your eyes, it’s like watching the night sky” isn’t exactly innovative.
Though most of the album’s instrumentalism is cleverly layered, ‘The Freedom Song’ is much simpler in sound. Distinct horn accents, a foot-tapping beat and a bubbly mood; the general mellow tones of the song, along with its reassuring lyrics, make this a feel-good track all over.
‘Be Honest’ is another subtle track that can take the listener back in time in an instant. Featuring singer-songwriter Inara George in the chorus, the song has a lounge music air surrounding it, all with a peculiar addition of a xylophone and an acoustic guitar.
The majority of the songs on Love is a Four Letter Word are able to stand on their own, yet as an album, it has a strange lack of obvious hits. Even the single ‘I Won’t Give Up’ doesn’t hit home as expected of a chart entry. However, fans who were introduced to Mraz’s music through ‘I’m Yours’ will probably fall in love with its twin ‘Living in the Moment’ complete with trademark casual guitar strumming, catchy whistling and a similarly positive vibe.
When it comes down to
it, Jason Mraz’s latest album will hardly change the music scene. But it can
be considered a step forward for listeners who thought his former
mono-emotional style too much to listen to throug a dozen or so songs per
album. At some points, it even comes dangerously close to a country sound, as can
be seen in‘Frank D. Fixer’.
Overall, Love Is a Four Letter Word is a safe ride that rarely goes through ups or downs; it talks about love in a very generic sense and doesn’t at any point hit a peak. The upbeat, high-pitched guitar-padded tunes are less in this album than the previous ones which hopefully hints at Mraz’s future evolution as an artist.