Shakira Falls From Her ‘Empire’ With Self-Titled Album

3 Stars

Unbeknown to English-speaking music lovers, Shakira had been making honest, guitar-driven Latin pop-rock long before her third album and English crossover Laundry Service. On these albums, including Donde Estan Los Ladrones?-which is considered a “rock en Espanol” classic-she proved herself to be an adapt songwriter. The albums that followed, however, lacked the same sense of personal nakedness that made her the Latina version of Taylor Swift to young Hispanic girls in the ’90s. That changed with her 2009 release of Sale el Sol, in which she returned to her Spanish-singing roots and personal songwriting. The record received rave reviews, setting high expectations for her latest release, Shakira.

The self-titled album almost lives up to them. Its main problem is that, when listened to all the way through, it seems all over the place. That is not to say that the album doesn’t have themes or sounds that tie it together with her other albums. There are frequent sonic references to reggae and ska, which are a surprisingly nice twist to Shakira’s pop music sound. Lyrically, Shakira spends most of the record thanking her partner, and Barcelona defender, Gerard Pique. That said, the sequencing of the album makes its content seem strange.

The album opens with its only dance track, “Dare (La La La).” Featuring elements of both dubstep and ’90s house music, the song is musically and lyrically uninteresting (“Is it true that you want it / Then act like you mean it”). Furthermore, it lacks the spunk and musical intricacy of Shakira’s 2009 single “She Wolf,” which mixed electronica and violins, and featured some witty lyricism (“Not looking for cute little divas / Or rich city guys that just want to enjoy / I’m having a very good time / And behave very bad in the arms of a boy”). It’s a disappointing track, considering what Shakira can do.

Next comes the first single off the album and the first of the reggae-inspired tracks, “Can’t Remember to Forget You.” Despite a disappointing performance on the charts-the song peaked at No.15-it is a catchy tune with fast ska and escalating drums. This song marks the beginning of a strong patch of songs on the album, all taking inspiration from Bob Marley and The Wailers.

“You Don’t Care About Me” is possibly the album’s most catchy and musically inventive songs. Shakira borrows the xylophone part from Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” and overlays it with horns and reggae guitars.

“Cut Me Deep” keeps with the reggae guitar sound, and adds the beautiful harmonies of featured artist Magic-but that’s really all the song has to offer.

While all the songs on the album have something that makes them musically interesting, few have the lyrics to match. Shakira is a better lyricist when she gets personal-as exhibited on the sing-in-the-car-with-windows-down “Spotlight,” in which she recounts the story of a girl, in her words, “hid behind a wall, piling up the bricks, hoping they would fall.” This is, of course, a personal reflection. “They can say whatever they want,” she declares. She refuses to give up her man, “even if [she] ends up blind.” The song has an amazing hook that uses the usually hipster effect of white noise over vocals. It’s a powerful application of the technique, unlike its use on the album’s second single “Empire,” which feels forced.

After “Spotlight,” the sequencing problems of the album really come to light. She follows the effects-laden track with acoustic ballad “Broken Record.” Both are good songs, but they don’t fit together. As a result, the beauty of the second song is lost, and listeners are left to make the transition between these tracks on their own.

By far the most heartfelt track on the record is “23,” in which Shakira goes so far as to declare that her partner made her believe in God and destiny. It is beautifully stark and simple, using only an acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, “Medicine,” the track before “23,” sounds as awkward as a rooster mating with a peacock. The song utilizes slide guitar, which sounds uncomfortable when paired with the vocals of fellow Voice coach Blake Shelton.

While Shakira’s album stretches pop music to its limits-adding island, Latin, and reggae in the mix-the self-titled album needs more consistency to be truly great.