Colombian superstar Shakira’s self-titled new album is a bit of an oddity. On the one hand, it boasts the catchy singles and prodigious vocal talent that has made her the world’s most famous Spanish-speaking singer, yet it is somewhat difficult to discern where “Shakira” will ultimately place in her artistic legacy. Lyrically, the album is the happiest one of her career as it deals with themes of parenthood, love and stability. Instrumentally, it all too often sounds boring and indistinguishable.
The record finds Shakira largely moving back to the folk rock of her early career, with the exception of a few tracks that digress in genre and yield mixed results. The best of these is the lead single ‘Can’t Remember to Forget You,’ on which she teams up with Rihanna for a ska rock track that sounds like the best No Doubt song Gwen Stefani never wrote. It’s the catchiest track on the album. Shakira and Rihanna have great duet chemistry and their idiosyncratic vocals blend well. The two other duets on the album—‘Medicine’ with Shakira’s fellow “The Voice” judge Blake Shelton and ‘Cut Me Deep’ with Canadian band Magic!—are more problematic. Shelton and Shakira also prove to have good chemistry yet are mired in a generic and played-out country rock sound. ‘Cut Me Deep’ is just a wan attempt at reggae that fails to showcase Shakira’s knack for lyricism. Much of “Shakira” is filled with adult contemporary pop rock, which generally runs the gamut from pleasant to bland.
The album’s best song is ‘Empire,’ a rock anthem that highlights all of her skills in the best way possible. There’s her delightfully strange voice, which, on this track, sounds like her take on a Tori Amos song. Also present is Shakira’s penchant for odd lyrics like “And my heart beats/Like the empires of the world unite.” Above all, there’s an absolutely perfect hook. The chorus is essentially wordless, with Shakira whooping over a parade-like beat. It’s an excellent expression of unadulterated joy and love, and deserves to be included in her pantheon of great singles along with ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ and ‘She Wolf.’ Quite frankly, the often staid “Shakira” could have used more songs like ‘Empire’ to give it more of a pulse.