Things could be a lot worse for Shakira, seeing as she’s a smoking-hot, sweet-natured, crazy-successful, one-woman foreign-exchange program whose international fanbase includes fellow Colombian Gabriel García Márquez. It ain’t such a bad gig, even if the veracity of her lower anatomy will always be in question, and like it or not, a previous megahit ensures that her surname will usually be doubled when mentioned in casual conversation. Like “Roxanne, Roxanne.” But in Spanish.
Perhaps it’s the public’s fascination with that most excellent shimmy-shimmy-ya—the flashpoint of “Hips Don’t Lie,” her infectious and inescapable smash 2007 collaboration with Wyclef Jean—that explains why, on Shakira’s third English-language CD, she’s put most of her usual undulating, poly-global mish-mosh on the back burner. Instead, She Wolf focuses on a (mostly) fast-forward, sparkly, synth-y, kitschy, electric bubblegum rush of Euro-disco, sprinkled with just enough klezmer clarinets, grinding boom-bap, and surly thrash guitar to keep things interesting. As if the biggest (if not blondest) Colombian export since—well, let’s not even go there—has ever been anything less than fascinating. She could never be merely another generic pop princess, if only thanks to her voice, as pretty as it is quirky, as flirty as it is meaty. Death of Auto-Tune? This chick’s got a vibrato that could blow up a mixing board.
She Wolf sets off with the title track, Shakira howling at the moon and casting her libido in a cheesy B-movie: “There’s a she-wolf in the closet/Let it out so it can breathe.” That neatly sets the pace (a quick one, incidentally, the whole CD clocking in at an economical 40-odd minutes) for what’s to come, as our girl invigorates each dollop of disco with lyrics that vacillate between sexy, analytical, adorable, and just flat-out goofy.
I mean, really goofy. Maybe her grasp of English isn’t quite 100 percent yet. Or maybe she’s translating from Spanish via Twitter. How else to explain such sonnets as “I’m starting to feel just a little abused/Like a coffee machine in an office,” “Better than to sail on the Mediterranean Sea/Better than to get a fancy Gucci dress for free,” or, referring to an ex taking his new love to Paris, “So think of me when you arrive/I hope the French fleas eat you both alive.” On the smoky alt-rock number “Men in This Town” she scopes out L.A.’s hot spots, and laments that the good ones are taken and that she’s not woman enough for Matt Damon. Man! Most girls feen after George, Brad, or Denzel, but she wants Ben’s better half? Shakira Shakira, you rule.
None of this is to suggest that She Wolf doesn’t address anything of consequence: The Neptunes-produced “Did It Again” is a true standout, a fervid, sad inhale/exhale of desire and regret. Love is also in the air on “Give It Up to Me,” a hard-banging collaboration with Timbaland and Lil Wayne (he no stranger to foreign languages, either) that strikes a less introspective note, a lustful battle-cry-meets-daily-affirmation-meets-black-fraternity-stepping-exhibition with a pelvis-thrusting video that makes the “Single Ladies” clip look like folk dancing. She might be putting her hips in check, but Shakira still speaks the truth.