“Where I was last/I’ll never be at,” Nelly Furtado boasted on “One Trick Pony,” the opening track of her excellent sophomore album, Folklore, and she’s certainly stuck to her guns on that point. Furtado followed up the Grammy-endorsed sophistipop of her debut, Whoa, Nelly!, with a string of hip-hop collaborations that included a popular remix of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On,” before dropping a surprisingly mature, diverse take on modern pop with Folklore. Though the album reviewed well, it proved that the summer of “Crazy In Love” probably wasn’t the most commercially viable time for Furtado to pick up a banjo.
Taking yet another sharp turn from the relative introspection of that album, then, Furtado’s third album, Loose, is a sexed-up dance record that, despite the apparent contradiction of having become a mother in the interim, sounds considerably more youthful than its predecessor. But for the ballads that seem tacked-on to the end, Loose‘s vibrant combination of hip-hop, world beats (reggeaton number “No Hay Igual” makes Rihanna sound all the more shrill and unnecessary), and ‘80s Top 40 pop comes off like M.I.A.‘s Arular without the dead-end political pretext and with arguably better rapping.
Credit for the beats goes to Timbaland, who seems to have recaptured his relevance in a pretty big way here, but the overall tone comes from Furtado’s writing and her effectively coy deliveries. As pop chameleon acts go, she seems to have a far better grasp of and control over what she’s doing than Pink. Over the course of the album, she maneuvers from vulnerable (on opener “Afraid”) to cocktease (on lead single “Promiscuous”) to voracious (on even-better second single “Maneater”), all the while giving off the auditory pheromones that maintain the same sexy tone.
Unfortunately, those ballads can’t be discounted, since they account for a full quarter of Loose‘s running time. While “In God’s Hands” is one of the first times in her career that Furtado’s voice could actually be described as pretty, the song itself—and the subsequent “All Good Things (Come To And End),” which comes off as bland for Furtado but not for its co-writer, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and a Spanish language reprise of “Te Busque,” a duet with Juanes—simply doesn’t fit with the first two-thirds of the album; the transition from “Do It,” a deliciously ‘80s uptempo cut that imagines what The Jets would’ve sounded like if they’d been singing about getting some instead of just having crushes, to those final songs is jarring. The difference in tone draws attention to the fact that “In God’s Hands” and both versions of “Te Busque” are the only tracks Timbaland didn’t produce.
Furtado’s style-hopping nature makes her a never less-than-interesting artist, but it doesn’t work to her advantage when it occurs within the same record, and that’s what ultimately keeps Loose from cohering as a singularly great pop album the way her prior efforts did. Fully nine tracks work phenomenally well as a package of progressive, smoldering dance-pop, and the remaining three tracks show that Folklore‘s sensitivity was no fluke. Which makes for an album without a single bad song, but which somehow doesn’t quite work as a whole.