Ididn’t have the privilege of reviewing Shakira’s 2001 bilingual breakthrough Laundry Service or last summer’s Spanish language album Fijacion Oral Vol. 1 (the record label never sent us review copies), but I’m familiar enough with both releases to know that, for someone whose “vocabulary wasn’t broad” (as she says on “Dreams For Plans,” a track from her new album Oral Fixation Vol. 2), the Colombian icon can wring more personality out of one self-penned lyric than her younger American counterparts can from an entire album’s worth of pre-purchased songs: “I’d like to be the owner of the zipper on your jeans,” she sings on the racy, No Doubt-esque “Hey You.” For a woman who once “spoke so little English,” Shakira effortlessly whips out words like “amnesty” and “ephemeral” as if she stole Mariah Carey’s thesaurus. The galvanic “Costume Makes The Clown” is weightier than it first seems, an apologia for more than just being a performer, while the opening and closing tracks take jabs at the superpowers of the world and our own denial, respectively: “It’s alright/If the news media says half the truth/Hearing what we want is the secret to eternal youth.” Even the music video for the album’s first single, “Don’t Bother,” is rich with symbolism—she isn’t covered in mud or writhing like an banshee (at least not too much), but as her beau falls asleep she fantasizes about prodding and ultimately crushing him like his fancy sports car parked in front of her house. Vol. 2 is Shakira’s first album sung almost entirely in English—there are small bits of French, Italian, and even Arabic, but there’s not one word of Spanish. It’s one of several signs that Vol. 2 is meant to catapult Shakira even further into the American mainstream. But if “La Tortura,” the crossover hit single from Vol. 1, proved anything, it’s that English-speaking audiences are more than willing to embrace Shakira just the way she is—and perhaps because of it. Vol. 2 finds the singer straddling the line more than ever, one part Natalie Merchant and one part Jewel. “How Do You Do,” the arty, politically-charged opening track, features Gregorian chants and an electric-guitar-driven chorus that stays in the brain even several tracks later, but in other songs it’s the main(stream) hook that’s the weakest part (like on “Animal City,” a somewhat cheesy metaphor for showbiz, and the orchestral “Your Embrace”), an attempt at radio-accessibility that white-washes the personality that sets Shakira apart from her competition.
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