It’s fair to say that if you were playing a quick game of ‘pair the artist with a fantasy producer’, you’d not put Nelly Furtado together with Timbaland. “Eh? That Portuguese/Canadian woman who sang I’m Like A Bird with Missy Elliott‘s producer? That’ll never work…” would probably be the reaction.
Yet it’s not such an unlikely pairing as it sounds. Furtado was in a hip-hop outfit before she became famous, and both of her previous albums have displayed enough variety and eclectism to avoid her being pigeonholed as one particular genre.
In fact it’s that eclectism that’s been both Furtado’s biggest selling point and largest drawback. Debut album Woah Nelly was an intriguing listen, drawing on elements of pop, folk, dance, and Latin music yet the follow up Folklore was similarly all over the shop, yet relentlessly dreary, having none of the freshness of her debut.
Timbaland’s biggest achievement therefore is to bring Furtado’s sense of fun back. Loose has been trailed as Furtado’s “sex album”, and it’s true that certainly shows off her more saucy side. The opening three tracks in particular are like Prince performing his own personal gig in a lapdancing club.
The single Maneater is pretty representative of this side of the album, being a great big dirty slice of danceable funk with one of the most irresistible hooks created this year. It’s a million miles away from I’m Like A Bird for sure and it’s unclear how Furtado’s original fanbase will react to it, but it’s a stunningly good pop record.
Maneater is sandwiched between the similarly paced Afraid and Promiscuous. The former is an atmospheric R & B number with a rap by Attitude and an excellent outro of a choir singing. That’s topped though by Promiscuous, a duet with Timbaland himself which sees the duo swapping raps such as “”I can see you with nothing on, feeling on me before you bring that on”.
Fans of Furtado’s more folky, ‘world music’ style need not fear however – it’s not all rude R & B pop. Columbian superstar Juanes shows up for Te Busque, but this starts off like Sting‘s Shape Of My Heart and becomes even more dull as the song progresses. More successful is No Hay Igual, sung entirely in Spanish and conjuring up a similar vibe to Gwen Stefani‘s Hollaback Girl – after a while it proves a bit annoying, but it’s catchy enough.
There’s also a fair amount of ballads on Loose, which are again of varying quality. Showtime is just lovely, showing off Furtado’s vocals perfectly, while In God’s Hands, although a bit bland, works pretty well. The mid-tempo Say It Right meanwhile is rather forgettable, saved only by Timbaland’s uniformly excellent production.
One of the album’s highlights though is the superb All God’s Hands, co-written by a certain Chris Martin. Martin has a definite talent for writing for women, as Jamelia‘s See It In A Boy’s Eyes proves, and All Good Things is in a similar vein. Although Martin’s vocals have apparently been removed from the chorus, it can’t spoil the fragile majesty of the song, which really should have closed the album instead of the two rather bolted on ‘bonus tracks’.
Loose is a fun listen (even Furtado’s giggling and random comments inbetween tracks adds to the charm) from one of pop music’s more interesting characters. It probably won’t appeal to all, and some of Furtado’s fans may be hugely turned off by the more danceable tracks. Yet Timbaland has revitalized Furtado – this is the sound of an artist having the time of her life.