Shakira is not like other pop stars. She dances like she’s got a live snake in her trousers and somehow manages to get away with singing lines such as this, taken from her 2001 hit, Wherever, Whenever: “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble / So you don’t confuse them with mountains”. What she’s going on about is anyone’s guess, but it somehow makes sense when it’s delivered in her strangely undulating, yelping singing voice.
Having followed up that initial hit with the globe straddling Hips Don’t Lie with Wyclef Jean and Beautiful Liar with Beyonc�, Shakira is now the fourth-richest female singer, sharing the spotlight with such divas as Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand.
Luckily, the Shakira on She Wolf is about as interested in lovey-dovey ballads as she is in singing in just the one key. She Wolf, as the title suggests, is a primal, carnal album of songs focusing on the opposite sex and, well, having sex with the opposite sex. It’s about sex, basically.
On the title track, over a funky guitar line and a deceptively simple beat, Shakira howls and cavorts her way through three minutes of delicious pop, as camp as it is clever. Bizarrely, it was co-written by Sam Endicott, the lead singer of American indie also-rans The Bravery. You get the feeling it wasn’t he who came up with the line, “Starting to feel just a little abused/ Like a coffee machine in an office”. It’s the kind of wonderfully bizarre couplet we’ve come to expect from Columbia’s shrinking violet.
Following the title track are four co-productions by The Neptunes. There was a time back at the beginning of the decade when seeing their name on the production credits was something to be excited about, but recently their levels have dropped and their work has disappointed. It’s testament to Shakira herself that the songs they work on are amongst the best here and most importantly, their distinctive, heavily percussive sound never overwhelms their charge. These are very much Shakira songs, not merely songs produced by The Neptunes.
Did It Again is based around a marching band motif, sparkly synths and a chorus that explodes from nowhere. Long Time has an off-kilter melody, those distinctive descending keyboard lines and some Eastern-influenced percussion. Best of all are Why Wait and Good Times, the former being an exuberant call to the bedroom over clattering beats and a mesmerising breakdown mid-song, whilst the latter slows things down a touch and features another lusty chorus: “My new resolution is to trust you/ My business to love you until you’ve had it/ I’m not going to miss out on the good stuff”.
After this run of amazing songs, the album dips slightly. Spy is another Wyclef Jean production that palls in comparison with its predecessor, whilst Gypsy is a drippy Amanda Ghost co-write. Luckily, the frankly scary Mon Amour rattles into view to end the album on a high. Co-produced by John Hill, who worked on Santigold‘s debut album, it’s a rattling rocker that sees a jealous Shakira longing for her lover to return from France: “Every night I pray that you don’t knock her up/ Because I still want to be the mother of your child… I really hope you have a horrible vacation”. It’s amazing, barmy, hilarious and mildly frightening, much like its creator.