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This ‘Spirit’ proves destructible

Nelly Furtado is one of pop’s more prolific artists: she has released an album every three years since 2000. After scoring several radio hits off 2006’s Loose, she self-produced the album Mi Plan entirely in Spanish in 2009. The Canadian singer/songwriter/actress/producer has a lot to offer: a distinct voice, a nice face and an incredible ear for spinning together melodies and infectious beats. All this and more is on display in her latest album, The Spirit Indestructible. This ambitious 18-track album is more experimental than anything she has ever done, even the Spanish-language Mi Plan.

The album begins with the title track and with one modest minute of light treble: melodic keyboard and Nelly’s voice alone. This minute — the first 60 seconds of the entire album — is unfortunately the least interesting and most annoying portion of the release. But to our relief, Furtado drops the beat, and every other dance-y sound she can think of, at the one-minute mark.

From there the song takes several turns. First, Furtado incorporates a beat reminiscent of “Promiscuous” (and how could anyone forget “Promiscuous”?), an electronic snare drum sound reminiscent of most mediocre hip-hop songs, some tribal beats and finally some voice-mixing. Perhaps the strangest shift in sound is when an electric guitar bassline emerges out of nowhere, almost perfectly capturing the atmospheric sound of London’s indie-pop band The xx.

Furtado’s featured artists always seem to ground her in some way. Timbaland was half the fun in “Promiscuous.” It’s a treat when Nas contributes to “Something,” the fifth track of the album, as he easily outperforms Furtado, who could probably be outperformed by anyone with lines such as “Can’t have a drink without a well / Can’t fall asleep without a spell / Can’t feel the wind without a kite.” Still, “Something” is one of the better-developed songs on the album. Though lyrically weak, she at least seems less genre-confused.

Furtado tries to get poetic and political with “Believers (Arab Spring),” but the song sounds more like a failed pop anthem when she wails à la Demi Lovato (“Knock you down / You get back up again, again / And when they run after you / You just run from them”). Furtado is better when she doesn’t try as hard. The best piece of the album, “Thoughts,” featuring the Kenyan Boys Choir, is simple and lovely. Even if it takes her an album of mostly poor songs to get out tracks like this (and at least one fun dance hit), then her return is, if not exactly triumphant, at least worthwhile.

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