SHAKIRA, “EL DORADO”, ALBUM REVIEW: Language Fixation

TRIPMUZE rating: 76/100

Shakira should sing all songs in Spanish.
Her voice is different between Spanish and English. The best attractions of Shakira’s voice are, first of all, dynamic vibrato, then the depth and echo of her voice in low keys. Her voice has much more strength and volume with Spanish lyrics than English. An easy comparison is “Waka Waka”, the official 2010 World Cup song released in both Spanish and English. The power and attraction of Shakira’s voice are completely different from the beginning between the two languages. Which is better, Fijación Oral or Oral Fixation? Definitely Fijación Oral. “Ciega, Sordomuda” and “Las de la Intuición” are few of good examples to enjoy her attractive voice but not many in English yet. I can’t hear her impressive vibrato with English songs, either. It is natural because Spanish is her native language. We all know Shakira is fluent in English now but her voice is way attractive in Spanish for many listeners. Quite honestly, her voice is sometimes too girly and cheesy in English. Probably it’s her goal to maintain same vocal attraction in both languages but she hasn’t achieved yet even being a worldwide heroine.

I love, love Shakira’s Spanish voice since she was running into stardom with black dread hairs (yes, ¿Dónde Están los Ladrones? era)I can’t forget the impact when I first listened “Ciega, Sordomuda” with the glass of Bacardi and Coke at a dusky Latino bar. I didn’t understand anything that she sang in Spanish (I’m 100% Japonés, baby), but her impressive vocal performance and melodies were enough to fall into her. She stole my heart quickly. And her music sense. The first 13 seconds sentimental intro of “Ciega, Sordomuda”, simply consisted with allured female vocal (Shakira), nostalgic male background chorus, trumpet and sweet Spanish guitar, was perfect enough to be one of the musical masterpieces with expressing her Latino pride. The song was beautiful. I really wanted to know who was singing that song, so I asked people around me. Those Colombians told me her name was Shakira from Barranquilla, the mix of Columbian and Lebanese, still 22 but compose music by herself, could also play guitar, etc. This is the song of almost 20 years ago but never fade away. When Shakira had U.S tour to support Oral Fixation, I went to all the way to Boston from New York City to see her because I couldn’t get a nice seat in NYC. There I witnessed Shakira could play guitar better than her lead guitarist. I respected her musicianship more at the show.

Here is my mixed emotion. Peaking at Fijación Oral, Shakira’s later albums haven’t exceeded that quality since then. That’s after Lester Mendez was no longer main co-writer and co-producer with Shakira, and she was turning her music into more pop and Latin from rock. I don’t think Shakira’s creativity declines. I know she is an artist who can make good songs by herself. I still believe she has amazing songwriting skill, but each album’s focus has been blur since Oral Fixation. It looks like Shakira has gotten a hard time to set her music direction between Spanish and English but also is scared about the possible decline of her popularity in the non-Spanish world (especially America) by not singing in English. She gained more news like World Cup, the U.S. presidential inaugural celebration, and being a soccer mom,  but her music hasn’t caused the eye of the storm like before for a long time.

Shakira’s 11th album, El Dorado, was released on May 26 after 3 years interval from her self-titled album. I was actually more doubtful about her new album before listening because of all the reasons above. The album cover also a reason to make me feel that way, either. The cover photo that looked like Shakira was on milk bath didn’t portray anything about El Dorado. The awful artwork made me more skeptical about the new album.

The result is mixed although most of the songs are Spanish. At least, my concerns are right. The overall album quality is less satisfactional, and the differences between Spanish songs and English songs still remains. To look at the bad side first, first 4 songs are unnecessary. Simply dull. Yes, including the first single, “Chantaje” with fellow Columbian singer Maluma, that sounds a little club-themed but basically flat. Especially, the first song, “Me Enamoré”, doesn’t have hooks and kicks. Shakira’s voice isn’t deep even singing in Spanish and sounds like a broken answering machine. This is critical for the first song choice. This bad choice kills the emotional ballad of the second song, “Nada”. “When A Woman” is a same bad routine with many of her English songs, just average.

But the album quality changes after “Amarillo” in 5th. That’s a good part. Songs are more catchy with better hooks. Plus the medley of duets with male vocalists is attractive. Shakira always has a good taste to select talented male vocalists to sing together from a wide range of genres no matter popular or unknown (or maybe America just didn’t know). The same combo with Maluma is sensual and shined in the dark melody with “Trap” in contrast to “Chantaje”. Shakira’s voice heats up and deepens on the duet with Colombian veteran Carlos Vives, “La Bicicleta”, as well as following “Deja Vu” with Prince Royce. Those duets are sparkling and thumb up. Her famous vibrato and deep voice fully blossom. “Comme Moi” is a successful idea of the bilingual duet with English (Shakira) and deep French (Black M). I think it would be more interesting if Shakira sang in Spanish because there was another English version with MAGIC! though I think English version is not necessary

Unfortunately, El Dorado is another Shakira’s album doesn’t exceed Fijación Oral. The less excitement of first half is fatal for overall album quality. Like anything else, the first impression is important. It’s too bad I can’t praise El Dorado album as much as I want to as her fan although the second half of this album is actually better than her 9th, Sale el Sol. I think Shakira should create more dynamic albums again and bring back her true glory without minding English. She is still too young to fade her wonderful creativity waste her strong voice by herself.

And I want to delicate her a simple yet famous international proverb. “Music doesn’t have a border”. I don’t know any Spanish yet but still, Shakira got me.

SHAKIRA, EL DORADO

*Photo source: Shakira, EL DORADO, album cover

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