Conventional wisdom states that you should not review a record after it has already been in stores for more than a month, 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.
That is my take on Shakira’s She Wolf, which hits stores here in the U.S. next week with a surplus of bonus tracks. The album is a slinky, sexy, spirited pop/disco bonbon that is all hips and lips and handclaps, with the occasional cowbell or clarinet sprinkled in for good measure. It’s every bit as good as the reviews advertised, and roughly 50 percent crazier 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 around it, it’s really a pretty straightforward, oddly personal record – and a fascinatingly fun one at that.
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 is fluent in English, Portuguese and Italian, tinkered with by a globe-spanning squad of producers. It is music that could not have existed in any other era made by a woman whose career would not have been possible at any other time in history.
It is this cultural intermingling that allows Shakira to end up with songs like “She Wolf” – the batty first single that slinks along on an Italo-disco line 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).
So, basically, it is 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”) and – most of all – lust (“Long Time,” “Why Wait,” “Spy”). These are imperfect emotions, and she is unashamed to be feeling them. In fact, this is probably her confessional.
But besides the sense of catharsis, however dramatic, the real power of She Wolf lies in its ability to pack dance floors. Of the 10 songs on the record, only one (“Gypsy”) is not an immediate, rousing hip-shaker. The U.S. version of the album 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.
What is undeniable, though, is that She Wolf is deeply personal pop for everyone.