still a bit traumatised by that thing with her leg

#29: Shakira - "Laundry Service" (2001)

There are two ways in my life in which anything of consequence gets done, and they are: with great enthusiasm; and a little bit later than planned. And so it was that I cycled through four different albums this week, before finally, on Saturday morning, settling on this one. And as soon as I did, it became obvious that this is where I’ve been heading all along.

You guys, it is Sunday morning. There is not much time left. But let us take what we have and embrace the most natural thing in the world: this week is Shakira Week.

Shakira is one of those artists I always seem to completely underestimate, because she does fast beats and her hips don’t lie, and that’s really about as far as I tend to get. (I tell a lie - do you remember that thing she did with her leg in the "She-Wolf" video?) And it’s a bit of a shame that I never really got much further, partly because of all the attention I have given Enrique Iglesias’s back catalogue over the last few years, but mostly because her music is infectiously, dramatically good fun.

Who's for some Argentine tango? Let's have some Argentine tango.

I feel like there’ve been quite a few po-faced acoustic boys on this blog in recent times, so on that basis I’m particularly delighted to be here, but also it’s nice to have someone who smashes their various influences together with gay abandon. There are beats and instruments from so many different sources – I’m notably awful at pinpointing which sources, exactly, but “Poem to a Horse” feels to me like it’s responding to a lot of things I half-recognise. “Eyes Like Yours” has a Middle-Eastern feel and backing vocals in Arabic; “Underneath Your Clothes” could be a Gloria Estefan song if it weren’t for Shakira’s spot-it-from-sixty-paces vocals; and “Fool” has a touch of the Colombian Alanis Morissette about it. “The One” could just be a power ballad, but to me it sounds like the kind of song that belongs a third of the way into Act II of a musical. Surprising no one, I'm right at home with it.

But where Laundry Service comes into its own is when Shakira is back in familiar territory – which is to say, singing in Spanish. I picked this album in particular because it was her break-out one in the English-speaking world, and you can tell it's her first big linguistic departure from something that she's really extremely good at.

Here is a piece of advice for you, that is useful in very, very limited circumstances – but what the hell, one day you might be in them – and it is Never Go To An Opera That Has Been Translated Into English. Because it is always pants. The English libretto never quite scans as well and always seems a bit underpowered. I’m telling you this like I know anything at all about opera; I did tech for a production of Carmen once and let me tell you, the Toreador’s Song in English is awfully silly. Likewise, why would you have a version of “Wherever, Whenever” where the chorus goes “I’ll be there and you’ll be near / And that’s the deal, my dear” when you could have proper actual Spanish? On an album with both versions, there’s a clear winner. And where there are some songs in each language, it’s pretty easy to spot the difference between “things that are quite good fun” and “wall-to-wall absolute bangers”.

That being said, my low-key favourite (I always have one) is “Eyes Like Yours”, which might be in English on this album, but which started out as “Ojos Así” and to which I have listened at least five times over the last twenty-four hours.

Speaking of things that don’t translate quite so cleanly, apparently it’s called Laundry Service because of some guff about love and music being a cleansing combination like soap and water. Shakira, everybody; forever blowing bubbles. More of this sort of thing. It’s exactly what I wanted this week.