Pop music is a lot like Halloween: It gives women an excuse to pretend they’re sluts. We first met Nelly Furtado when she donned wings on 2000’s swooping “I’m Like a Bird,” one of the millennium’s first great singles, and the link between the Christina Aguileras and Michelle Branches of the world. She then took a dive with her 2003 sophomore disc, Folklore, a slightly wacky exercise in world strum with a title even Greil Marcus probably found cloyingly coneheaded. And now, here we are, with Furtado, a new mother, declaring herself Loose on an album of straight-ahead Timbaland beats and eyebrow-raising detours into open bedrooms. Whoa, Nelly!
Has Furtado slapped on the assless chaps of conformity? Greil can at least appreciate the vocabulary power brought to bear on the single “Promiscuous.” Recently I overheard a group of twentysomething women discussing how promiscuous is a tougher slur to toss out than one-syllable put-downs like slut and ‘ho; even whore is somehow too long, one observed. Furtado is forcing us to enunciate—to consider, even for a moment, what we’re saying. And the tune itself actually sounds sensual, with its cushiony beat and cool splashes of ’80s synth. Furtado lent “I’m Like a Bird” a bit of ache, trailing ever so slightly behind the beat. Here she really is floating above everything, but pulling strings rather than letting go—she coos, she flirts, she’s as lithe as Tim’s guest rap is ponderous.
Furtado is game, in other words, but Timbo brings beats, not chemistry. Loose isn’t a love child, but a bump-and-grind that never finds a groove: “Do It” weakly evokes J.J. Fad, “Glow” is a coy request for an orgasm with a deep but ineffectual bass buzz, and “Showtime” just another lush commitment jam earmarked for radio. If this disc has a credo, it’s from “Maneater,” the most alive song here: “Move your body around like a nympho.” It’s not your place to judge Nelly for sexing up and refusing to settle down, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look askance at the company she keeps.