Anyone who has been in the pop music game for longer than the latest X-Factor winner knows that in order to keep yourself suitably platinum, reinvention is key. The Madonnas, Kylies and Britneys of this world learnt long ago that a progressive mixture of genre twisting, innocence and downright sluttiness is the key to female pop star’s solo success, and even the dour tribe of Norah Jones and co know the effect of a good pout now and again. So where does that leave Nelly Furtado?
Well until recently, you would have placed her firmly in the kooky but harmless category. Much of debut album Whoa Nelly was radio friendly, upbeat pop about being like a bird and magical worlds not being quite what they seem. However, after a brief hiatus, Furtado has come back smacked full of barefaced raunch. She’s hooked up with ridiculously successful producer Timbaland and started looking in clubs for loose blokes (Promiscuous Girl) and threatening to eat all pathetic men alive (Maneater).
So how does this translate to a packed out Apollo? Well, in terms of a good mixture of genre-splicing pop, you’ve always been able to count on Nelly. Tonight is a blend of brazen pop nuggets, torch burning ballads, said grind-inducing R&B, a little Latin passion and the baffling but ultimately fun Forca, the anthem of the 2004 European football championships which takes place complete with Rod Stewart-style ball punting into crowd action.
She appears in a little purple number and launches straight into early singles Turn Off The Light and Say What You Want; both typical examples of how a pop music live show can be hit or miss. Both tracks are transformed into monster sized stadium fillers, from humble recorded beginnings and if anything, the Hammersmith Apollo is too small for what Nelly and her band are pelting at us.
She can easily turn the tempo down a bit as well. Coming out after one of several musical interludes in a fetching black cocktail dress, she turns to a touching rendition of love song Try. There isn’t a murmur in the Apollo as she proves that while she might suit the jumping around like a maniac dance routine, she can also croon with the best of them.
She thanks Jo Whiley for introducing her to Gnarls Barkley tune Crazy, before an acoustic rendition and London sings back to her. It’s appropriate. The lasting impression tonight gives of Nelly Furtado, is that she is a little unhinged, but at the same time nothing less than a versatile and talented performer, who seems to be loving every minute of playing to a crowd.
One more quick change later and she’s out of the dress and into the dancing gear for the finale, a boisterous Promiscuous Girl followed by that football song. The former is a glimpse into the new Nelly, über-produced, super-sexy and a world away from the quirky Canadian that won a Grammy for I’m Like A Bird. The latter is, quite plainly the kind of tune that on record would make you run to switch off the speakers, but live only adds to the upbeat carnival atmosphere.
She ends with Maneater, a projection screen shows flames licking the top of the stage and it almost takes the roof off. Reinvention? Yes. But Nelly Furtado is hardly selling out. It’s more savvy than smutty, and another facet to an already impressive span of great pop music.