Album Review : Nelly Furtado’s ‘The Spirit Indestructible’

Canadian chanteuse Nelly Furtado has always been one of pop’s most eclectic, innovative and adventurous vocalists – an unlikely diva who has blazed a trail instead of following one after dropping her Grammy-winning genre-bending début album ‘Whoa, Nelly!‘ (7 million units sold worldwide) 12 years ago. Over a period of a decade, Furtado established herself as a force to be reckoned with,  especially when she took a commercially viable turn with her most radio friendly and mainstream album, 2006’s ‘Loose‘, which sold in excess of an astounding 10 million units worldwide, relentlessly unleashing chart-topping single after single. With that one album, Nelly Furtado proved that if she wanted to do mainstream, she could effortlessly slay every pop vixen in the game.

6 years after ‘Loose‘ debuted atop the Billboard Charts and established her as one of the most bankable artists in the biz, Nelly Furtado returns with an album that chooses not to re-create the success of ‘Loose‘, by purposely staying away from the sound dominating the pop landscape today. That’s precisely why Furtado commands the level of respect she gets every time she drops an album. Instead of collaborating with Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Stargate, Bangladesh, RedOne etc, who could have easily crafted some massive electro-pop dance-floor jams, given that her voice would have easily carried them to the top of the charts, Furtado chose to go along with Salaam Remi, Rodney ‘Darkchild’ Jerkins and Mike Angelakos on her nostalgia-inspired 4th English language studio album, ‘The Spirit Indestructible‘. The result is an eclectic mix of everything Furtado has done so far, a nostalgic amalgamation of the free-spirited feel of 2000’s ‘Whoa, Nelly!‘, the lush cross-cultural feel of 2003’s ‘Folklore‘, the slick banging beats of 2006’s ‘Loose‘, all woven into a sound that – irrespective of the occasional stumble – stands its ground as diverse and refreshing.

The Spirit Indestructible‘ kicks off with the Darkchild produced title track, a compelling, uplifting and booming extravaganza with an infectious hook and a lush melody that serves as an ode to the power of the human spirit and perseverance. One of my fave Nelly Furtado tracks of all time already, ‘Spirit Indestructible‘ is a song that I identify with, and am inspired by – especially when the song is combined with the lyric video featuring Furtado’s friend Spencer West’s awe-inspiring climb of Mt Kilimanjaro – with the help of his arms alone. West lost both his legs when he was 5. One listen to this song, and I’m all ready to tap into the indestructible power of my own spirit, along with celebrating each blessing that I’ve received and have taken for granted. A set of functional legs for starters.

The eclectic influences, occasionally a tad unbalanced, are evident in songs like ‘Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)‘, the official first single, where Furtado tends to get a little nasal – à la Rihanna, ‘The Most Beautiful Thing‘ featuring Sara Tavares with its Middle Eastern tinge, the absolutely lush mid-tempo jam ‘Miracles‘, as well as the Michael Angelakos produced ‘Circles‘. The drum-n-bass double speed breakdown near the end of ‘Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)‘ is spectacular, and I’m glad she didn’t go the dubstep way here.

Irrespective of steering clear of generic dance music, Furtado does not abandon the club on this album. The Darkchild produced ‘Parking Lot‘, a song that chronicles her musical beginnings, could well be seen as an attempt to re-create the success of ‘Promiscuous‘ and ‘Maneater‘ from 2006’s ‘Loose‘. She doesn’t exactly stumble here, especially since the song is a slinky dance number with some spanking beats and bass that would easily cater to all the clubs with a few remixes thrown in, but then again, it falls short of the stellar productions of the Timbaland-assisted ‘Promiscuous‘. The closest Nelly comes to generic dance music is the club-friendly ‘Waiting For The Night‘, which sounds rather fresh.

Furtado has a coupla interesting collaborations up her sleeve as well, especially the Nas-assisted ‘Something‘, the Kenya Boys Choir-assisted ‘Thoughts‘, and my personal fave – the Dylan Murray-assisted ‘Be Ok‘ – which I hope is released as a single. Nelly’s ‘Loose‘ boasted of one her best ballads ever – the heart-breakingly lush ‘Back In God’s Hands‘, and ‘Be Ok‘ is a simple, yet worthy follow-up. The song beautifully chronicles the pain post a break-up, and as Dylan and Nelly sing to each other with a palpable pain –

I can’t believe I let you slip away , are you gonna be ok?

I’ve been doing so much thinking about you, fall asleep and I start dreaming about you

How many of us have yearned to hear the words ‘are you gonna be ok?‘ instead of the deafening silence that generally follows between you and the person you considered yours? Especially when the one you loved suddenly becomes a complete stranger after a break-up? I count myself in.

Overall, ‘The Spirit Indestructible‘ might not be Nelly Furtado’s best album. It may have its share of flaws and shortcomings, and the occasional stumble is inevitable, considering the risks a global superstar of her stature has taken by purposely abandoning a mainstream sound. And there lies the magnanimity of the album. She keeps it real and human, and sticks to her guns – and that’s what I admire about Nelly as an artist. Undoubtedly an impressive effort, and easily one of my favorite albums of 2012. Expect this one to rank high on my year-end list of the best albums of 2012. Go Nelly!