Monday, July 13th, 2009

Nelly Furtado – Manos Al Aire

Ella es como un pájaro…


Chuck Eddy: And here I thought she was Portuguese (not to mention Canadian). Pretty much a snoozerama, either way. Improves slightly when she speeds up.

Briony Edwards: This song has some lovely elements — like the chorus, which is layered with a bunch of pleasingly pleasant harmonies and a pretty epic guitar tone (especially towards the end of the track), which culminate in a sound which is driving, but not overly challenging. However, there doesn’t really seem to be much more to it than that. Definitely a nod back to the original “Like a Bird” era Nelly, which is on the whole more fitting than the attempts at the sexy, even if those attempts were actually more exciting musically. Nothing exceptional, but nice enough.

Edward Okulicz: If this truly is her skin, she’s very very uneasy in it. Dear everyone who wished Nelly would abandon the amazingly danceable urban-esque pop of her last album: ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

Alex Ostroff: Facing the daunting task of following up pop juggernaut Loose, Furtado sidesteps into Spanish and back to her Folklore-era rock tendencies. It’s a good look. The titular ‘Hands in the Air’ aren’t ones of celebration, but rather of exasperation. Nelly fights through the tense and wordy pre-chorus with her domineering boyfriend, before laying down her weapons and breaking into an anthemic chorus. Throwing up her hands, she presumably flips him the bird before she flies away.

Michaelangelo Matos: I’ll give her this: she’s nowhere near as irritating when she isn’t singing in English.

Alfred Soto: Returning to her roots as a boring acoustic chanteuse after years of flashing pink for Timbaland isn’t as easy as Furtado thinks. She renders this piece of Shakira-lite even more pedestrian with a voice as toneless as an answering machine greeting.

Martin Skidmore: I like her voice a lot on the verses: it sounds strained with feeling, pleading, but she relaxes into the chorus and it is far less sharply appealing.

Erick Bieritz: Furtado is apparently an auto-tune abstainer and “Manos Al Aire” certainly gives her the chance to show off her unassisted chops, whatever the language. Her staccato verses and languid chorus sound good, but there’s too little development to make the song deeply affecting.

Anthony Miccio: Based on the translations I’ve read, it’s unclear whether Furtado’s character is leaving an increasingly hurtful lover or resigning herself to the dysfunction, and this context gives weight to what was already an affecting mix of vulnerable vocals and sprightly sounds. But the music ends suddenly, with a pat aftertaste I can’t wash away without better understanding how the lyrics play. An English version could easily jump up a few notches, but that perfunctory finish means I can’t be certain.

Martin Kavka: This is a strange, strange, beautiful track. The acoustic guitar running underneath sounds as if it’s gotten soused, and is having trouble making it home safely. Nelly sounds as if she’s trying reallllly hard not to cry by acting defiant, and by the first chorus she’s breathing as hard as a contestant on Dance Your Ass Off!. The lyrics go far in explaining this. “Manos Al Aire” is a fantasy that the boyfriend who’s currently telling you to shut up might change back to the man he was yesterday. What to do when you can’t talk back to him? Write a song in which you complain about being told to shut up, just like Aimee Mann in “Voices Carry.”

13 Responses to “Nelly Furtado – Manos Al Aire”

  1. So: reasonably clear split here between those who looked up a translation of the lyrics or otherwise understood them and those who seemed not to. But which approach is better? On one level it seems sensible to learn the meaning of the lyrics to a song before critiquing it, but isn’t the latter approach more truthful to the actual listening experience of the non-Hispanophone? Tricky popcrit dilemma.

    For me, having not read the lyrics and having only GCSE Spanish, I found it a bit meh – around a [4].

  2. I’ve never been a devotee of the reviewing-the-lyric-sheet-or-translation school myself. I mean, sure, it can often be interesting to find out what they’re singing about. But I review with my ears, and I’m basically incapable of second-guessing how I might feel differently about a song if I actually spoke the language. (I don’t tend to look up, say, incomprehensible death-metal lyrics for the same reason. And I also assume there’s plenty of foreign songs I like that I’d like less if I understood the words. Even some songs I love — Mexico’s Caifanes, one of my favorite bands of the ’90s, had new-age poetry lyrics that read ridiculously pretentious on paper, assuming translations I saw were trustworthy. But knowing that didn’t make them any less pleasurable to listen to, and I really can’t pretend otherwise. So my solution has usually been to not to look the lyrics up.)

  3. Or another way to put it is that I review Spanish-language records as what I am — a (North) American not fluent in Spanish hearing them. Which, when you think about it, is really no different than how I might review, say, Eurodance records where I don’t necessarily speak the (aesthetic) language, even if their lyrics do happen to be in English. And it’s also the same way I review most any other record, where lyrics don’t tend to affect my opinion positively or negatively unless I actually happen to notice them (or the delivery somehow affects my appreciation of them).

  4. Chuck, does that mean that you’d give the same score to “She Wolf” and “Loba”?

  5. I don’t necessarily look up translations, but the tone of the track made me curious. I thought it would better inform my review, and help me have a better sense of where I stood with it – so I did. Since that info affected how I heard the song, I said so and why. There’s nothing wrong with getting further into a track than merely listening to it, as long as you share the information (or lack of it) that’s influencing your take.

    I will say that there are a lot of songs in languages other than I wouldn’t necessarily want to give my two cents on, because I don’t think what little I’d have to say would be worthwhile to anyone who’d plausibly seek out the track. It’s a case by case thing.

  6. woops. meant “songs in languages other than english that I wouldn’t…”

  7. Martin — I haven’t heard “She Wolf.” But no, actually, if the English words made me like the track more or less than “Loba,” I might well adjust that score accordingly.

    And Anthony — Understand, I’m not prescribing what anybody else should do. Just explaining what I do. (I’ve definitely looked up lyrics before. But offhand, I can’t remember an instance when reading them changed my opinion.) And there definitely are foreign tracks where I don’t think I’d have anything interesting to say about them — there’s lots of foreign music I have no feel for at all. I often wish my ears could pick up what certain Mexican regional songs I hear on Texas radio were about; some might well sound less generic to me if I did. On the other hand, I’ve received plenty of positive response from Spanish-speaking people in the Latin Alternative world about things I’ve written critiquing rock en espanol over the years, and I haven’t had to resort to lyric analysis to do it — except, maybe, when interviewing bands about their lyrics.

  8. And I’m also not proposing being a know-nothing about lyrics, btw. Knowledge is good, and there’s nothing wrong with mentioning that, say, some French band’s lyrics deal with immigration issues, if people have regularly translated their lyrics that way. It obviously might provide a useful context. But again, if I don’t speak French myself, it’s hard to imagine how said information would make me want to listen to their music more or less than I might otherwise.

  9. Sometimes knowing what the person’s going on about makes they’re going on about it more touching – like Tom Hanks getting weepy over opera in Philadelphia.

  10. I mean, I sit somewhere in between the two extremes. Lyrics are important to understanding, appreciating, etc. the merits of a song, and the lyrics of this certainly play some role in my enjoyment of it. But I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to translate songs in German or Latvian or what have you – in fact, one of my friends gave me a mix of German pop music a few years ago which I listen to all the time, which remains lyrically obtuse to me. But ignoring the lyrics of Spanish or French songs would be willfully disingenuous because I *do* know what they are and what they mean.

  11. lyrically opaque, rather.

  12. I’m by and large on the same page as Chuck on this. Mostly I’d rather not know – a little of this is my not caring about lyrics much most of the time, but most is my experience with African music. I loved for instance a lot of guitar pop from there, then started seeing the occasional translation, and some acts started doing English words. I can’t recall a case where I liked the track better, and some songs I loved turned out to be about God or how women should know their place. Or both. That didn’t help.

  13. The song is sweet and has lots of meaning. I heard the song and fell in love with it. I couldnt pin point why? Cause I dont speak spanish. But when I saw the english translation it all came together. The beat is sweet. She is still working with Timbaland. And everything sounds better in spanish.