Shakira delights in confounding expectations, and nowhere is that better seen than in how she secured a massive crossover audience on her own terms. She blended Latin pop and American mainstream pop, on both the dance and easy listening sides of the equation, on her 2001 breakthrough, Laundry Service, but it was no crass cash grab -- she eased herself into the transition, balancing songs in Spanish and English on the record while crafting tunes in both languages to appeal to both longtime fans and new listeners. That set ...
Shakira delights in confounding expectations, and nowhere is that better seen than in how she secured a massive crossover audience on her own terms. She blended Latin pop and American mainstream pop, on both the dance and easy listening sides of the equation, on her 2001 breakthrough, Laundry Service, but it was no crass cash grab -- she eased herself into the transition, balancing songs in Spanish and English on the record while crafting tunes in both languages to appeal to both longtime fans and new listeners. That set the stage for her magnum opus of 2005, the two-part Fijación Oral, Vol. 1/Oral Fixation, Vol. 2. Vol. 1 was her first Spanish-language Latin pop album since 1998 and the second was her first ever all-English crossover album, and if anybody was expecting the latter to be a continuation of Laundry Service, consisting of nothing but sexy dance tunes and power ballads, Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 will be a bit of a surprise: it's a deadly serious, ambitious pop/rock album, most assuredly not frivolous dance-pop. Even when the album dives into pulsating neo-disco, it's in the form of a protest song in the closer, "Timor," which isn't exactly by the numbers pop. And that's a pretty good description of Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 in general -- it's pop, but it's unconventional. Even when she alludes to pop divas past, whether it's with the foreboding gospel choir on "How Do You Do" that brings to mind "Like a Prayer" or how she cribs from Alanis Morissette on "Illegal" ("You said you would love me until you died/And as far as I know you're still alive" is very close to "You Oughta Know"), Shakira twists these references to her own purposes, taking the music in unexpected directions. All these turns and detours lead to the same general destination: the sound is grandly theatrical, darkly sultry, and unapologetically lurid, a place where Madonna and U2 exist not as peers, but as collaborators. For if this album is anything, it's a global pop/rock album with each of those modifiers carrying equal weight: these are pop songs performed as arena rock, belonging not to a single country but to the world as a whole. As such, the album touches on everything from the expected Latin rhythms to glitzy Euro-disco, trashy American rock & roll, and stomping Brit-pop, all punctuated by some stark confessionals, as Shakira sings about everything from love to religion, stopping along the way to reveal that women with 24-inch waists may indeed be heartbroken. If some of these ideas don't necessarily gel, at least Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 is alive with ambition and, more often than not, Shakira winds up with music that is distinctive as both songs and recordings. And that means that Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 is not only a markedly different album from Fijación Oral, but from every other record in her catalog -- or, most importantly, from any other pop album released during 2005. Other artists may be bigger than Shakira while others may make more fully realized albums, but as of the mid-2000s no other pop artist has attempted as much and achieved as much as Shakira, as this often enthralling album proves. [Oral Fixation, Vol. 2 was reissued four months after its original release with a slightly different sequencing and two new tracks: the not very good at all "Hips Don't Lie," which features Wyclef Jean (who shouts out "Shakira" every 20 seconds or so), and a Spanglish version of "La Tortura," a song from Fijación Oral.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
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