Henry Cow & Nelly Furtado (a natural combo)

For some reason I’ve been listening pretty nonstop to Henry Cow’s Concerts the past couple days (which means there will probably be a review coming soon — that it hasn’t yet been reviewed on this site is somewhat baffling). A favorite moment that just passed me by: some 11 minutes into the fabulous take of “Ruins,” Fred Frith’s ebullient guitar solo slowly stutters into the background, as if pushed backstage by Dagmar Krause as she begins singing wordlessly, imploringly. This stuff is sublime.

And now, since I know readers of this website are probably big fans of modern pop music:

Incongruously, the album that kept me awake on a recent long drive was something rather different — Nelly Furtado’s new one, Loose. I suppose this isn’t all that new anymore. In any case, it’s quite fascinating: the first few songs are pure club fodder, absolutely stinking of Timbaland (that sounds rather negative but isn’t meant to be), with all the lyrical nuance you would expect from songs called “Maneater” and “Promiscuous.” (Though the Steve Nash namedropping is kind of cute, or something. Hey, look! A fellow famous Canadian!) But then we get into some totally different stuff, like “No Hay Igual,” which combines your typical queasy Timbaland synth line with Latin percussion and insistently chanted vocals in Spanish. It’s actually pretty edgy stuff. This is followed by a song “featuring Juanes” that sounds more like a Juanes song than it does a Nelly Furtado song. And then, a little later, we get something that would totally be at home on a Kylie Minogue album: “Do It” is pure Euro dance-pop. Then there’s “In God’s Hands” which sounds more like Mandy Moore than anything else. Finally, there’s the triumphant closing song, an absolutely gorgeous slice of melancholy that is maybe the best pop ballad I have ever heard.

What is one to make of this? Furtado kind of carved out an identity for herself over her first two albums, but now she seems either totally directionless, or brilliantly unhinged, or maybe just a bit plagiaristic (even aside from the whole “Do It” controversy with Timbaland). Not only does Loose not sound anything like Whoa, Nelly! or Folklore, it also sounds nothing like itself, having absolutely no consistent sound. This isn’t necessarily so weird for some artists, but for a pure pop artist, it’s rather more surprising. I still haven’t decided if it’s a good thing or not. Or, for that matter, whether this album is any good or not.

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