The spirit is willing

Canadian pop chanteuse Nelly Furtado tries to stay relevant with her fourth studio album, but is she trying too hard?

NELLY FURTADO/ THE SPIRIT INDESTRUCTIBLE

It was at the turn of the millennium when pop music was experiencing a full-blown resurgence. Madonna released her eighth studio album, the masterful Music, Britney Spears followed up her debut with the wildly successful Oops! ... I Did It Again, boy band N'Sync bade Bye Bye Bye, Robbie Williams gave us his most iconic single Rock DJ while rapper Eminem effortlessly crossed over to pop with his most excellent The Marshall Mathers LP.

But amid the frenzy fuelled by pop returnees emerged industry newcomer Nelly Furtado, a Canadian-Portuguese songstress whose eccentric brand of pop and quirky vocals would contribute to the critical and commercial success of her debut album, Whoa, Nelly! Her singles I'm Like a Bird, Turn Off the Light and ... On the Radio (Remember the Days) oozed the kind of freshness lacking in Spears' and Christina Aguilera's songs.

Simply put, Furtado stood out from the pack, and her career finally reached its peak with Loose, the Timbaland-produced studio creation that spawned international hits such as Maneater, Promiscuous and Say it Right. Having sold more than 10 millions copies worldwide, Loose became one of the best-selling albums of the 2000s.

After dabbling in a Spanish-language record and releasing a greatest hits compilation, Furtado joins forces with a team of producers headed by Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins on her latest offering, The Spirit Indestructible. Judging from the album's first single, Big Hoops (Bigger the Better) and subsequent tracks including High Life, Parking Lot and Something, she's still determined to cash in on the same urban R&B/hip hop stylings that made her last album such a huge success.

The problem is, though, the pop landscape has long moved on. In her absence, the charts have been dominated by a new crop of female artists. It's a harsh reality, but now in 2013, Furtado is hard pressed to find her place alongside pop heavyweights such as Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Even her made-for-dancefloor ragers (Waiting for the Night, Hold Up) feel uninspired and prove a flimsy attempt to ride on the electronic dance music fad.

What saves The Spirit Indestructible from being a total catastrophe, though, is a collection of understated, quieter gems such as The Most Beautiful Thing, Miracles and Circles _ think of her previous ballads including Try and All Good Things (Come to an End), but with a bit more edge and attitude. It's ironic because only when she's not channelling her sassy Loose-era persona (as she does for the majority of this album), does the record shine at its brightest. If there's a next album, we hope it's something more along the lines of I'm Like a Bird rather than Big Hoops _ in other words, simple and subtle rather than big and brash.

THE PLAYLIST

The Orange Rolls/ Eek Mai Nan

Thai music has always been about polished production and marketable catchiness, so when we heard the distinct lo-fi aesthetics of Eek Mai Nan (Not Too Long Now) by homegrown indie group the Orange Rolls, we were pleasantly surprised. No stranger to the local live music circuit, the band offer a unique take on rock music, throwing in handfuls of atmospheric soundscapes and hazy vocals to match the track's wistful lyrics. But amid the effects still lies veritable elements of rock such as the tender guitarlines and clash cymbals.

David Bowie/ Where Are We Now?

One of the world's greatest music legends has just confirmed his perma-popstar status by releasing his first new single in a decade and announcing his 24th studio album, The Next Day, on his birthday on Jan 8. Where Are We Now? sees the 66-year-old Ziggy Stardust in a melancholic, almost mournful state of mind, referring to himself as "a man lost in time" and singing: "Where are we now? Where are we now?/The moment you know you know you know.' As far as the production goes, it's an understated piano ballad with hints of late '70s/early '80s electro-rock _ exactly the sound Ziggy mastered.

Foals/ My Number

Late last year, the beloved British indie rock quintet announced their comeback with Inhaler, the solid first single from their upcoming third studio album Holy Fire. The boys follow this up with My Number, a catchier, funk-flecked ode to the universally relatable theme of detachment. "And I don't need your counsel, and I don't need these city streets/And I don't need your good advice, 'cause we can move beyond it now," frontman Yannis Philappakis sings alongside his bandmates' contagious coos. This is by far their poppiest effort and we'd like to hear more.

Destiny's Child/ Nuclear

Following the release of their second compilation, Love Songs, Destiny's Child, one of the most celebrated girl groups of the '90s, are poised to perform together for the first time since 2007 at this year's American football Super Bowl (Feb 3). And if all goes as planned, the now-defunct group will be performing this breezy new jam called Nuclear. Over a distinctly '90s production, the children of destiny harmonise: "It's nuclear, we're two here/There's nowhere left to run." It's a cruisy little tune, although lacking the empowering panache found on their previous offerings such as Jumpin' Jumpin', Bootylicious and Independent Women. We're curious to see how Nuclear fares at such a hyped, massive event.

Kitty Pryde/Dead Island

Florida-based Kathryn Beckwith, aka Kitty Pryde, started rapping and making her music on Garageband before posting it on Tumblr, an act that would eventually pave the way for her internet stardom. Unfazed by the mixed reviews of her first single, OK Cupid, Kitty, whose musical authenticity is hotly and endlessly debated, continued to release EPs and mixtapes throughout last year. Dead Island sees the Tumblr sensation delivering her signature sweet-voiced flow accompanied by the marching beat a la Major Lazer's modern classic Pon De Floor. Clocking in at a little over two minutes coupled with the fade-in and fade-out, the song feels like an interlude rather than a fully developed track although we do appreciate her unabashed, oft-hilarious, honesty ("Wiz is black and yellow and I'm white and f***ing terrible").

About the author

Writer: Chanun Poomsawai