Nelly Furtado - Mi Plan
(Monday September 21, 2009 4:19 PM
Released on 14/09/09
When Nelly Furtado first emerged in 2000 as a Portuguese-Canadian singer songwriter with one song so indelibly likeable ("I'm Like A Bird") that even King Rock Snob Nick Hornby stooped to patronise it, her future career path seemed inevitable. A few more albums of the same sweet-natured folksiness, to diminishing effect and an even more diminishing audience. She seemed destined to be a trick question in a retro pop quiz, not a star with staying power.
Indeed, 2003's "Folklore" followed this underperforming blueprint almost perfectly, despite boasting one gorgeous single, "Powerless". And then things got interesting. When news emerged that she had enlisted Timbaland for her third, "sexy" record "Loose", reactions ranged from "how cynical" to "how doomed". Ten million record sales and "Maneater" later, Furtado proved she could confound expectations.
Which brings us to "Mi Plan", Furtado's fourth record and her first in Spanish. Can she master the bustle and colour of Latin pop as easily as she mastered sweaty electro? Tristemente, no. While never less than agreeable, "Mi Plan" is rarely more than that. Furtado, a promiscuous collaborator, has secured the services of respected Latin pop figures like Mexican-American singer Julieta Venegas and Spanish rapper La Mala Rodriguez, but is bedevilled throughout by two problems. The first is that the songwriting is often generic and predictable to anybody who knows a little Latin pop, and the second is that her reedily pleasant voice lacks the power or flamboyance the genre demands.
The result is a strangely samey record, given the number of people involved, a little like being stuck in a Mexico City traffic jam for 40 minutes listening to the cab driver's radio pouring out local identihits. "Mas" doesn't translate as "mush", but that's what its weak synths, cheap strings and drippy melody sound like, while the treacly love duet "Como Lluvia" and listless "Feliz Cumpleanos" practically leak from the speakers.
Given repeated listens a few songs do rise from the soup. The playful, upbeat "Baja Otra Luz" has a breezy charm, and while "Suenos" is slight, its melancholy Spanish guitars and chiming keyboards play to Furtado's slender vocals. "Fuerte", however, is by far the best and most convincing thing here, with its melodramatic pacing and feverish co-vocal from the brilliant Mallorcan Concha Buika, whose cameo is the album's most exciting.
Who knows what the unpredictable Furtado will do next, but on the evidence of "Mi Plan", a truly good, truly consistent Latin pop record would be a nice surprise. On the strength of "Fuerte" alone, don't rule it out.
by Jaime Gill
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