I threw The Spirit Indestructible onto my virtual iPod turntable with the sort of enthusiasm that can only be generated by a six year wait for a follow up to 2006’s chart-smashing Loose. (Yes Mi Plan, her Spanish-langauge album, arrived somewhere in the middle of that interminable wait but it failed to strike a chord with me.)
And I expected brilliance. Incandescent pop brilliance so bright that it would put Rihanna and Gaga, talented though they are, into the shadows as they gazed with jealousy and yes, some admiration for Nelly Furtado’s newest artistic achievement.
A little too much anticipation perhaps? Guilty as charged maybe, but to be fair “Big Hoops”, though it lacked that certain something to push it into endless-repeat territory of Loose’s “Maneater” or “Glow”, and the indescribably beautiful “The Spirit Indestructible” had fired me up to expect an album that had both sass and substance, and a musical palette so entrancingly diverse that it pushed the envelope so far that it merely resembled a crushed and torn piece of paper.
In a sense, The Spirit Indestructible has all those things. Furtado’s trademark willingness to throw all the bleeps, trills and sonic accessories into the mix is on full show on an album that is will not any piece of musical trimming a home if it sounds somewhat appealing enough.
That is by no means a put down of any kind. I admire her willingness to push a song as far it will go, and make it as interesting and complex, and fun as it can be. It’s what made Loose, in part, such a catchy album. Not only was it musically up to the minute, packed full of catchy melodies, but it sounded like Nelly Furtado had had a ball crafting each and every note, and making every song as un-pedestrian as possible.
She has clearly tried to do the same thing with The Spirit Indestructible but somehow it never quite comes together. Too many songs hover on the edge of greatness, flirting with crossing the barrier from good to great but not quite make the leap. Which means you have many songs that are engaging up to a point but not quite reach the point where they beg on bended knees to be repeated till your ears bleed.
Songs like “Parking Lot”, with its shimmery backbeats and insistent drums and luminous vocals comes closest of the more upbeat numbers to true pop divinity, as does the mid tempo lusciousness of “Circles” which manages to avoid being just another tedious “let’s talk about it” song, and is threatening to be a sleeper tune that sneaks up on me and won’t let me go three listens in.
It’s a pity that more tracks aren’t rushing to join these two in the quest to embrace glory because there are some seriously hit-worthy songs in the making here, if only they had been allowed the usual free rein Furtado gives her songs.
I am not sure if it’s the presence of multiple co-producers – Furtado is listed as the executive producer – such as Salaam Remi, Di Genius, and Tiesto that fracture the musical vision somewhat, or Furtado not being entirely sure how to bring all the diverse strands together, but the songs, though dolled up in all their cutting-edge musical finery, never quite manage to engage you on the level you initially think they’re going to.
Part of the problem could be Furtado’s admirable attempt to inject social-conscious songs into the mix, alongside the songs celebrating carefree nights outs, and the perils of relationships (handled with far more honesty and insight by P!nk on her latest effort). Those big issue songs, which form the core of Whoa Nelly and Folklore, but noticeably absent on Loose (everyone was apparently too busy dance dancing to notice much), are an intrinsic part of Furtado’s DNA as an artist, and part of what makes her such a compelling person to listen to.
Unfortunately when you place them on an album cheek-by-jowl with more club-themed tracks where, let’s be honest, the lyrics centre less on the spirit of hope engendered by the Arab Spring (“Believers”) than getting bootylicious on the dance floor, both sets of songs somehow lose out.
I am not suggesting she somehow compartmentalise her songs – although Greenday are attempting something of the sort with their soon to be released three album extravaganza – or dispense with one or the other, but I felt like I was changing gears so often emotionally and intellectually that the album, already slightly hobbled by less than lofty realisations of what good songs straining to be great, lost a little more lustre.
Having said all that, this is not a bad album by any measure. It radiates the warm charm of this talented artist, her voice retains its vibrancy and richness, and a knack for channelling just the right emotional note, and overall it does a fine job of showcasing her many talents.
But alas, it is missing that special something.
It is telling that after an initial listen through of The Spirit Indestructible that I wanted to listen to either Loose or Whoa Nelly in preference to diving into a second helping of her new material, an unusual state of being for one of my favourite artists whose new album is may not be playing on my virtual turntable quite as long as I expected it to when first I breathlessly hit play this morning.