Oral Fixation Volume 2
t would be easy to assume that for the less-adventurous English-language market that remembers her for the daft “Whenever, Wherever” and the Bangles-biting “Underneath Your Clothes,” that Shakira would have kept her most unhinged, off-the-wall songs for her Spanish-language releases.
Not so. Where Fijacion Oral Volume 1 was only amiably kooky, Volume 2 is even more adventurous, much less sane, and considerably more fun. It includes nine new songs, and two English-language versions of tracks off Volume 1, and as a whole, defies clear categorisation beyond “pop,” as there’s little linking each song sonically.
The single “Don’t Bother” finds her continuing along the path suggested by the best of her three Laundry Service singles, “Objection (Tango),” sounding like a Colombian Heart tribute band covering Texas’s “Halo,” her bruised, anthemic chorus dwarfed by one of the year’s most awkwardly endearing spoken word interludes, a virtue of pop lyrics written by those who speak English as their second language that’s impossible for native speakers to emulate:
For you I’d give up all I own and move to a communist countryElsewhere, “Costume Makes The Clown” makes an opening, self-reflexive reference to “humble breasts” over a dry Aerosmith pastiche, “Hey You” blends a Stray Cats strut, Addams Family theme clicks, a wonky trumpet and a wholesale pinch of the chorus to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and “How Do You Do” uses a church choir to atmospheric and slightly unsettling effect. What these songs do have in common is accusation against, or longing for, an absent or leaving lover, but the sheer variety of styles keep it from becoming mired.
If you came with me, of course
And I’d file my nails so they don’t hurt you
There are some more conventional songs—“Illegal” sounds like any other recent pop collaboration with Carlos Santana—but it’s well-executed and her hurt is believable. “Your Embrace” is her best stab at creating another “Underneath Your Clothes” but where her accent attacked the words until they cowered in fear on the latter, she’s more restrained and effective here, and her lyrics have a lovely simplicity to them.
Given how fun some of the madness is, it’s a surprise that the very best song on offer is the almost Lilith-Fair mundane (at least as regards texture and sound) “The Day And The Time,” one of the two English translations. It stands superior to its Spanish sibling “Dia Especial” because it sounds like a much more nuanced vocal performance, Shakira quivering over the English lyrics in a more convincing fashion melded with a beautiful, heartfelt melody. The way she enunciates her words gives them a specific, definite shape, and the English ones fit better over the swooning, romantic music, which has a hint of Paula Cole about it.
The closer, “Timor,” seemingly a rant against the ignorance of the world’s newest and poorest nation, starts with chanting (“How about our people, who don’t matter anymore?”, they ask), momentarily threatens to turn into techno, before pitching itself pretty much halfway between the two, and would have seemed silly or indulgent if it weren’t so kinetic and catchy. Shakira seems completely aware of how preposterous it is, but both her writing and performance are genuine and nuanced.
A simple song like “Something” (the other Spanish translation on the album) gives the listener a minute to catch their breath between the aforementioned bonkers-fests “Costume” and “Timor,” but its spooked romanticism works well enough taken on its own. In flowing between confrontational and thoughtful, loud and quiet, happy and sad, Oral Fixation Volume 2 strikes a good balance between the creative audacity of its more extreme songs, all of which work as good pop, and the filler, which is well crafted and catchy.
Above all else, Shakira shows that highly individual, original pop songwriting can co-exist splendidly with commercial interests, and on both of those scales, this album is something of a triumph.