First, let’s get the positive reinforcement out of the way: Shakira’s Laundry Service is a nicely-written, well-recorded pop album.
Shakira hits all the right notes, paints within all the proper pop music lines, delivers a good by-the-book hitmaker.
On the surface, tracks such as “Whenever, Wherever”, “Rules” and “Ready for the Good Times” contain ear-grabbing choruses and arse-shaking beats.
Scratch beneath the surface, and Laundry Service reveals itself to be a slump.
Although Shakira’s last album, Donde estan los ladrones?, was heavy on the ballads, the album had a rock ‘n’ roll swagger that translated into a riveting performance.
Non-Spanish speakers didn’t need to know what Shakira was singing to feel her music.
Laundry Service, on the other hand, has washed away some of that rawness, leaving behind a chart-topping-ready sheen that lacks any real passion.
Beatles-esque ballads such as “Underneath Your Clothes” and “The One” feel way too predictable. “Inevitable”, they are not.
“Fool” comes close to replicate the alt-rock vibe of “Donde estan los ladrones?” but not quite, while “Poem to a Horse” is passable but not remarkable.
As for Shakira’s ability to navigate the English language, she definitely deserves high marks. Unlike most of the foreign (read: Japanese) singers worshipped on this very site, Shakira’s diction shows few flaws.
And yet, the way Shakira scrapes her notes and alternates between throaty growls and demure whispers just doesn’t seem to fit English very well.
Tune out “Whenever, Wherever”, and there are moments when a listener’s ear would rather force Shakira’s delivery into Spanish rather than English.
Shakira includes a few Spanish-language tracks toward the end of the album, but it’s not enough to save Laundry Service.
Next time, Shakira should borrow a page from the Chris Perez Band/Pizzicato Five playbook: record a mostly-native-language album with the singles entirely in English and everything else either in the native tongue or with some English choruses.
Contrary to what American audiences believe, rock music not sung in English is no less good.