Sultry Songstress Crosses Musical Borders

Shakira
Sale El Sol
Epic

Shakira may be lookin’ a little slim (what happened to those hips, baby girl?) but she’s border-hopping better than ever. On her latest Sale el Sol, the seductress polishes her raw Latin sound — throwing electronica and indie-rock into the mix.

The bilingual Sale El Sol is more reserved than last year’s She Wolf. There’s less noise, fewer ragers and, despite signature track “Loca,” a more toned-down thread of crazy, creating fewer distractions from Shakira’s unique vocal aesthetic. The songstress reins in the top-40 sound peppered throughout She Wolf (which was rife with electro-disco beats and Lil Wayne verses) and replaces it with the emotional honesty and signature Latin flavor notably absent from the ’09 release. It’s a refreshing step back to her Fijacion Oral Vol. 1 roots.

Don’t fret about busting out the Spanish dictionary either. On rock-imbibed “Devocion” and guitar-touting “Tu Boca,” Shakira’s crooning feels so culturally universal, actually understanding the lyrics falls by the wayside (“Waka Waka” is diced with Afrikaans, for Christ’s sake).

Speaking of “Waka Waka,” if you haven’t had your fill of the world cup smash, now is your chance to have the anthem two ways: in Spanish and English, both with a new rock-techno backbeat under Shakira’s warbling.

“Loca” is also available in two languages, both featuring a breathy Shakira backed by tribal drums and joyous trumpets that celebrate the singer’s resignation to insanity. Depending on the version, she’s joined by the lyric-spitting Dizzee Rascal or a smoky El Cata, adding some masculine sex appeal.

But for an album that lauds the singer’s madness, the effect is surprisingly muted.  Shakira’s soulful cover of indie darlings The xx’s “Islands” — while illustrating her sincerity and praise-worthy tendency to experiment — is oddly tame. But with that killer voice and the dance moves to match, we certainly don’t mind. (8/10)

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