It’s been quite a journey for Nelly Furtado since she slinked her way into the charts in 2000 with the sweet I’m Like A Bird. The accompanying album, Woah, Nelly! was packed full of folk-pop songs that displayed a desire to mesh world music with a direct pop sensibility. Second album Folklore was a more sedated affair, stripping away some of the joie de vivre in favour of a far more sombre tone. Needless to say, the sales dwindled and it was felt that Furtado had perhaps had her day in the sun.
Enter a certain producer known as Timbaland and the rest, as they say, is history. Out went the rootsy, folk-tinged sound in favour of banging beats, strutting synths and an image that displayed far more midriff then we’d previously seen. Loose featured a handful of exceptional singles that topped the charts worldwide and the previously politically conscious singer (2003 single Powerless railed against racism in the music industry), turned her attention to promiscuous men and dissing fellow female singers on Timbaland’s own Give It To Me. Furtado was back, but for some she had taken a fairly extreme and well-trodden path in order to get there.
Mi Plan, her first album recorded in a language other than English, feels like a concerted attempt to reconnect with the fans of her earlier albums. Despite her Portuguese roots, however, Furtado has decided to try her hand at a (much more lucrative) Spanish language album first, with the Portuguese album to follow next year. So, out goes Timbaland and in comes Alex Cuba, who adds vocals to the pleasant title track, and American singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas (who performs in Spanish) who appears on the acoustic Najo Otra Luz.
For the most part, the album is a pretty good listen. Opener and first single Manos al Aire (or Hands In The Air if you need a translation) is a catchy blend of rock guitars and pattering beats, its melodic chorus one of the few that genuinely stick in the mind. Elsewhere, the Salaam Remi-produced Suficiente Tiempo is a nice slice of ’80s tinged electropop, with Furtado’s somewhat nasal vocals working well with the echoing beats.
Unfortunately, there are also a handful of tracks that reek of mid-’90s Eurovision. Silencio, featuring the never knowingly vocally understated Josh Groban, is an epic ballad that benefits from not having the lyrics sung in English, whilst Vacacion sounds remarkably like The Vengaboys, which was hopefully not the intention. The rest are pleasant but never overly diverting, creating an album that works well as a kind of musical wallpaper, albeit one with fairly obvious Spanish motifs on.
So, as with previous attempts at Spanish language albums by other successful pop stars (Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera), Mi Plan is a mildly diverting listen that doesn’t tarnish the brand and helps re-connect the artist with a core fanbase. If that sounds overly cynical then too bad, because you can’t shake the feeling that this time next year we should see that midriff back on display in a fairly risqué video for a song with a pounding Timbaland beat. Mi Plan is merely a brief interlude.