Nelly Furtado

"Mi Plan" (Universal Music Latino) -- 3 STARS

With her fourth studio album, “Mi Plan,” Nelly Furtado shifts her focus wholly onto the Latin genre. Although she’s had several Spanish-language singles and has collaborated with famous Spanish-speaking artists, this will be her first album recorded entirely in Spanish. After delving into hip-hop and R&B; with her 2003 album “Loose,” Furtado returns to pop with varying Latin styles, creating a record of intoxicating melodies.

With her breakout hit “I’m Like a Bird,” off 2000’s Grammy-winning “Whoa, Nelly!,” Furtado likely could have developed her career solely around her vocal talent and pop style. But in 2003, Furtado chose to abandon pop in favor of less radio-friendly folk music on the tepidly received “Folklore.” For her next album, she tried another route, that of the R&B; singer. Collaborating with Timbaland for a series of hip-hop tracks, including the chart-topping “Promiscuous,” Furtado regained star status.

Nelly Furtado had recorded Spanish-language music previously—on 2006’s “Te Busque” as well as 2003’s “Fotografia,” a singles duet with famous Colombian singer-songwriter Juanes—but her new album has steeped her even deeper into the Latin genre. “Mi Plan” features cameos from some of the Latin pop world’s best known icons.

The album hearkens back to Furtado’s pop roots while simultaneously pushing her in an adventurous new direction. “Mi Plan” is a mixture of upbeat pop and some softer acoustic songs which make a somewhat odd, yet surprisingly workable mix. Guest artists—including Latin icons Alejandro Fernandez, Alex Cuba, Julieta Venegas, La Mala Rodriguez, as well as American singer Josh Groban—bring a refreshing variety to the songs they share with Furtado. Alejandro Fernandez, in the song “Sueños,” nicely complements Furtado’s soaring melody with his deep and bold voice.

Elsewhere, Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas and Spanish hip-hop artist La Mala Rodriguez support Furtado in “Bajo Otra Luz,” trading rapid-fire verses until the emergence of the song’s horn-filled chorus. On one of the album’s emotional peaks, tenor Josh Groban brings his beautiful voice to “Silencio,” in which he and Furtado reflect on suffering in the absence of a lover.

While the quantity and stature of Furtado’s guests is exciting, the participation of some contributors is unimpressive. On “Como Lluvia,” Juan Luis Guerra, the infamous Dominican singer/songwriter, is barely audible, to the point where its difficult to discern the identity of the second singer. A soft melodic song with a mixture of acoustic undertones, “Como Lluvia” could have allowed Guerra to showcase his sincere vocal qualities. But despite his distinctive voice, he barely makes any musical contribution to the song. Regardless of this circumstance, likely the fault of the producer, the song deserves praise for its poetic lyrics. “Y me despierto con el concierto de tu cabello en el mio, y un sin fin de un ‘te quiero’,” sings Furtado, which translates to “and I awake with a concert of your hair in mine and with an endless ‘I love you’.”

Furtado’s experimentation with a complete Spanish album might make some of her faithful listeners hesitant, but overall the album proves to be a success. She mixes a wide variety of styles, from melancholic ballads to confident pop, and puts meaningful lyrics to them that will not disappoint. Even though most American fans may not understand her words, “Mi Plan” is still a successful comeback into the musical style with which she initially started her career.