“Are you there God? Soy yo, Margaret…er, I mean Shakira.”
The Latin diva’s latest album, “Oral Fixation, Volume II,” the English-language follow-up to 2001’s crossover smash, “Dirty Laundry,” addresses all the prepubescent questions of the Judy Blume novel: the Lord, boys, and female self-image. Shakira, however, is a grown woman and should have deeper thoughts than those on “Vol. II.,” not to mention more captivating beats.
A product of the same recording sessions that produced this year’s “Fijacion Oral I,” “Vol. II” contains no songs from the Spanish album, even excluding her effortlessly erotic delight “La Tortura.” Separating her songs into language-based categories dilutes the power of both albums, and neither the Spanish nor English album achieves full levels of Freudian fixation.
On “Vol. II,” Shakira begins with a religious monologue to God on “How Do You Do?” Opening with a Gregorian chant of the “Our Father” and church bells, the song has boundless potential, but abruptly changes into a spiritual pop opus with its haunting combination of Christian prayer, Arabic words, and Hebrew chanting. While the topic’s ambition is commendable, the song lacks the power of Madonna’s similarly-themed “Like a Prayer.”
Shakira, who pens her own lyrics, excels with English lines such as “And if you wrote the script/then why the troublemakers?” Despite this show of lyrical enlightenment, lines like, “Can you tell me why the cat fights the dog?” reduce the song’s overall bite.
The album’s first single, “Don’t Bother” is highly reminiscent of Alanis Morissette’s early ’90s boyfriend abandonment rant, “You Oughta Know,” but less angry. Shakira chooses the self-reassurance angle, with lines like, “I’m glad that I’m not your type.”
The backing track could be a B-side from “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack; Shakira’s whispered lines sound appropriately like ’80s movie dialogue. This corny breakdown should have taken a cue from 2001’s “Objection (The Tango),” in which Shakira’s words served to improve the song, not to make it ridiculous.
Carlos Santana slows things down in his duet wounded lover’s anthem with Shakira, “Illegal.” The sensuality practically oozes from Santana’s guitar riffs, conjuring up the image of rain pelting a window, with Shakira peering out forlornly at passers-by. Her line, “you said, you would love me until you died/and as far as I know, you’re still alive,” is eerily identical to Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” in which Alanis sings “does she know that you told me you’d love me until you died?/...well you’re still alive!” Interesante…
The album then takes a turn to the forgettable with “The Day and the Time,” which sounds like a first-time poet’s melodramatic scrawlings, a la Vanessa Carlton’s bathos-filled album title, “Be Not Nobody.” Vomit.
Shakira’s attempt at robotic rap talk and raging against the fame-hungry, greedy world, “Animal City” is only worth listening to in order to hear the random elephant and wolf noises at the end. No lie.
On the rest of the album Shakira either reminisces about dulled love (“Dreams for Plans”), expresses her dependence on a certain lover (“Your Embrace”), or longingly pines after a boy (“Hey You”). Her cutesy, bleating voice is especially effective on this trumpet-filled, retro pop ditty “Hey You,” with its almost obsessive, cat-like quality lending itself to late-night girly dance parties (or so I’ve heard).
Rounding out the 10-song set is “Something,” a ’60s-esque, ethereal love song that starts out in French, jolting the listener from their doze through the preceding dull songs. Even given Shakira’s reported linguistic abilities, this song’s romantic opening is a refreshing French surprise. With its silently compelling sway, “Something” is one of the better easy-listening numbers in years. By ending on “Timor,” one of her trademark pulsating Latin dancehall numbers, “Vol. II” leaves the listener confused, and wanting “something” a little more unified.
Although the album has a few songs which reward repeat listens “Vol. II” lacks enough memorable singles to compare to her past work. None of the new songs have the sensuality of “La Tortura,” the energy of “Objection (The Tango),” the pounding bass of “Whenever, Wherever,” or even the poignant expression of “Underneath Your Clothes.”
Shakira would have benefited from including the better songs from “Vol. I” along with the strong work of “Vol. II.” Instead of two partially realized halves, she would have had a powerhouse album good enough to ensure that God and the entire world were out there and listening.