She’s by no means anonymous, but Nelly Furtado’s elusive persona makes her something of a blank canvas for producers.
In a decade’s time, the Canada native born to Portuguese parents flew from the cute “I’m Like a Bird” (a hit from the 2000 album “Whoa, Nelly!”) to the sultry club smash “Promiscuous” (from 2006’s “Loose”) to the 2009 Spanish-language album “Mi Plan.” Through all the international hits, Furtado has avoided scandals, feuds and overexposure. She has been an adventurous artist, malleable to change and in her own orbit.
The first impression she makes with her new “The Spirit Indestructible” is that she isn’t trying to make mainstream hits anymore. The release is a literal beatdown, heavy with bass and drums/percussion. Her high voice darts through and around the churning, slapping and gurgling arrangements — most of them produced by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins — that frequently sound more experimental than dance-oriented.
“Loose” fans will zero in on new track “Something,” a 2.0 version of “Promiscuous” in which Furtado smolders in the heady, sensual loops and noir aura (“Baby I could give you something”) as Nas stands in capably for the Timbaland role of give-and-take guest rapper. Other easily embraceable cuts find Furtado skittering over a bumping foundation and under a buzzing overlay on “Parking Lot,” singing what might be a mid-tempo pop song on “Bucket List” if her voice weren’t bottled up in compressed studio wizardry, and channeling a bluesy side on an innovative “Circles” that is weirdly akin to snake-charmer electro.
Other tracks might take more work to appreciate, and Furtado comes off like Rihanna-meets-M.I.A. (with a Madonna twist in the propulsive “Waiting for the Night”), reconciling arcing pop refrains with edgy production. “The Spirit Indestructible” rumbles along with offbeat determination (by way of unconventional rhythms), and the singer seems like she’s just along for the ride, albeit a very willing passenger.
And whether she’s ahead of the curve or out of the loop, it’s good to hear Nelly Furtado taking chances.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!