Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shakira - An Aural Fixation

I know I haven't written a lot about Shakira in the past but the dark rooted Colombian beauty is right up there with Beyoncé and Mariah as my favourite pan American superstar. Needless to say, recently leaked details of her upcoming 8th studio album have me in a complete spin. The line up of producers alone is staggering. The diva has apparently recorded tracks with Red One (Lady GaGa), Toby Gad (Fergie & Beyoncé) and Pharrell Williams (Gwen Stefani) as well as Wyclef Jean and reggaeton legends Calle 13. The album has a September release date, so it shouldn't be too long before we hear something new. In the meantime, I thought I'd write a post about her last project - the sorely undervalued "Oral Fixation".

Like most people outside of South America, "Laundry Service" was my introduction to Shakira. That album sold more than 20 million copies around the world. In Australia, it went five times platinum and produced three top 5 singles. The cultural impact was phenomenal. Latin music went mainstream and the Shakira look was everywhere - even my mum let her roots grow out and bought a peasant blouse! Cut to 2005. "Oral Fixation" is released with little fanfare and misses the top 50 altogether in this country. The 2006 re-release did considerably better on the back of "Hips Don't Lie" but it was still a remarkable fall from grace. That sales pattern held true for most of the (English speaking) world. So, what went wrong?

In short - just about everything. I love both volumes in their own way but there simply wasn't enough excellent material for two separate albums. As a result both turned out patchy. Add to that a dodgy title, some bad single choices and general confusion about what to promote in each different territory and you have a giant mess on your hands. The great shame is that Shakira had a blistering follow-up to "Laundry Service" in the can. The "Oral Fixation" sessions created some truly amazing music including two of my favourite songs of all time. Taking the best songs from both volumes results in one hell of a good album. I'm sure opinions differ wildly but I've listed my suggested tracklist for "Oral Fixation" below:

1. Hips Don't Lie

The song that saved the whole "Oral Fixation" campaign is a glorious slice of throwaway urban pop. I have a feeling Shakira will re-visit this sound on her new album given the list of collaborators.

2. La Pared

Dark, introspective and very beautiful.

3. Don't Bother

The lead single from Volume 2 is an underrated pop gem. Some of the lyrics are a bit dubious but there's real emotion in this. I particularly love the general 'woe is me' sentiment. The remixes were also unusually good.

4. La Tortura

This irresistibly catchy duet with Alejandro Sanz went to #1 in 25 countries. For good reason.

5. Hey You

Possibly the quirkiest song on either album. This jam boasts jangly guitars, a sing-a-long chorus, splashes of brass and the infamous lyric “I’d like to be the owner of the zipper on your jeans and that thing that makes you happy”. Classy.

6. Día Especial

I mentioned earlier that Oral Fixation produced two of my all time favourite songs. Well, "Día Especial" is the first of them. This languid, melancholy ballad is an exquisite exercise in restraint. The English version, “The Day And The Time”, is lovely too but the Spanish version is perfection. A classic.

7. How Do You Do

A highly original exploration of religion - complete with chanting and a surprisingly catchy rock-lite chorus.

8. Día de Enero

This sweet love song was a single in most of South America. It's as cute as a button and never fails to brighten my mood. Check out the cheap and cheerful video.

9. Timor

Possibly the world's only disco anti-war anthem. I almost choked the first time I heard this. It's so jarring to hear lyrics of this nature set to a thumping dance beat, which I guess is Shakira's way of highlighting the absurdity of war. "Timor" has to be heard to be believed!

10. Las de la Intuición

This is my other all time favourite song from "Oral Fixation". People think of Shakira as being a bit serious but "Las de la Intuición" is pure, unadulterated POP with a hands in the air chorus and killer beats. Make sure you check out the trashtastic video clip. Hearing this in a Madrid nightclub last year was something akin to a spiritual experience for me. Shakira later recorded "Las de la Intuición" in English under the title "Pure Intention" but avoid that rubbish at all costs.

These ten "Oral Fixation" gems are all truly brilliant but I hope we don't have to mix and match Shakira's next album!


Poster Girl said...

I could probably live happily without hearing "Hips Don't Lie" ever again after its omnipresence a few years ago, but "Las de la Intuición" is still brilliant and deserved way more attention than it got outside of a few countries.

Paul said...

i think you hit the nail on the head with this. i just couldn't be bothered with two albums and i adored Laundry Service. I've been waiting (though i didn't know it) for someone to do this and it's perfect. Listening to it again for the second time now :)

Jay said...

I cannot believe the fabulous Calle 13 are lowering themselves to work with VILE Skankira... though I loved Wherever, Whenever.

Guy said...

It was completely bizarre, the release strategy... all of the pent up interest in the next Shakira album was wasted on Fijacion Oral Vol 1, which was thrown out will little fanfare, and then people started scratching their heads in confusion when Vol 2 followed. I think this always happens when artists get too globe-conquering in their ambition. See, for example, Shania Twain's disastrous "Up" project, with it's bizarre "world music" disc that included a shocking Bollywood mixes of "I'm gonna get you good" and others. Shudder.

The Prophet said...


La Tortura >>>>>>>>>>>>> Every single english song she has ever done (besides hips dont lie).

John said...

"La Tortura" is perfection, and "Don't Bother" has always been sorely under-recognized. And then she did "Beautiful Liar" that I still have no idea whether I love or loathe.

D'luv said...

She sounds like she's gargling man paste.

Kevin said...

Shakira blows. My goat sounds better than her!

Mike, have you seen the artwork for the Asian editions? Hilarious! The cover and any booklet's photos have been photoshopped to hide her. It's as if she is being devoured by leaves!

The Prophet said...


Real Bitch said...

I THINk ask for more *unrealeased* and whenever wherever and the underappreciated, Don't bother are her best english songs, followed by underneath your clothes and "how do you do" and "fool".