Saturday, January 28, 2006


Despite my oft stated disgust with the current state of mainstream pop - a disgust that in truth could be applied to the mainstream pop of any time - I am actually a sucker for a well-crafted, hook-laden commercial song that shows any spark of individuality and creativity. However, such music seems to be in short supply in the USA right now, so I found myself turning to different sources.

And not necessarily the obvious British alternative. The single hugely successful, hugely commercial, and decidedly mainstream (albeit with a strong individual touch) artist who appeals to me today is the Columbian singer Shakira.

Not that I have heard her latest albums (something to put right soon enough). No, this impression is based on her Spanish only Dónde están los ladrones? that I recently picked up after hearing a clip or two on the BMG website.

This is one masterful CD. Sure, all the mainstream pop motifs are in place, be they dance beats or power ballad guitar chords, but they are fresh and exciting. Shakira is a very good songwriter and has a crack band behind her here. Her melodies are seductive, the arrangements sparkle. Perhaps her greatest gift is to have mastered that effortless synthesis of world music (and I don't necessarily mean NPR-style ethnic world music here) that I believe is the key to popular music growth today. One hears touches of everything from Country, through Latin, through all kinds of alternative, through electronica, through simple balladry, through everything basically, but none of it sounds artificially appropriated.

On top of all that she is a compelling singer. Comparisons to Alanis Morrisette have been made, and, yes, Shakira shares some of the vocal mannerisms of Morrisette. But she has a much larger vocal and expressive range.

She also writes better songs.

Clearly she is richly self-confident in her music, so much so that on her song Octavio día she appropriates the two chord motif of I Am The Walrus and generates a song that carries echoes of The Beatles without in any sense being a Beatles song.

So what, you may say, artists having been appropriating The Beatles non-stop since their earliest records, and this is certainly true. However Shakira's song seems to go beyond homage or mimicry into something reflective and thoughtful. A further example of her creativity is the blending of Western dance with Middle-Eastern melody and form on the catchy Ojos así - not something you would necessarily associate with a 'Latin' artist.

So, an artist I shall be looking into much more. But why did she dye her hair blonde? She looks so much better with those black tresses.

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