Nelly Furtado‘s career post-Loose has been spotty. The Canadian popstar, who changed the pop climate and introduced Timbaland back to the fray in 2006, failed to bag another big hit and her “comeback” album The Spirit Indestructible, failed to gain traction despite its forward-thinking pop.
Over her career, Furtado has made some of the most innovative and successful pop around. She successfully added heart to wild beats and always kept her personality at the forefront, something many that popstars often lose. When The Spirit Indestructible didn’t connect with the mainstream, it seemed she was at a lost as to what to do next. There was one song, however, that proved exactly the direction she should head in – a collaboration with Dev Hynes called Hadron Collider. That song showcased her raw voice while still proving just how good a topliner writer she is.
That leads us to The Ride, arguably her first record that positions her in the alternative space. Produced by John Congleton who has worked with St. Vincent, it doesn’t feature even one attempt at a radio hit and the result is her most cohesive album yet. It builds on the rawness of her Hynes collab and doesn’t strive for the same sheen as her previous records.
It opens with distorted, hard-hitting beats on Cold Hard Truth, a song that she successfully colours with a delectable chorus that juxtaposes the harshness of the instrumental. “The cold hard truth is I can make it without you,” she sings, a statement that could be seen as a middle finger to commercial pop.
If you thought Furtado going alternative meant there was nothing to satisfy the pop sweet tooth though, there are plenty of moments to prove you wrong. Live‘s vocal melody is carefree and succulent, Sticks And Stones has a mighty, anthemic chorus and Flatline boasts an incredible hook. Sure, there’s nothing close to Promiscuous Girl but we’re talking about an artist whose first big hit I’m Like A Bird was driven by a hippy spirit. In many ways, this is the closest thing she’s ever made to Whoah, Nelly.
First single Pipe Dreams defines best what Furtado wants from this project. “I wanna feel the good and bad in everything,” she sings over a slow-moving, reflective instrumental. She taps into every emotion on The Ride and embraces everything from femininity to age. It’s a real time depiction of where she is right now and a proud declaration of all the flaws and successes of her life.
Pop music is ageist, particularly when it comes to women. The greats from Madonna to Britney Spears have had to deal with it but Furtado isn’t about to let that beat her down. Instead of defying age, she’s celebrating age and that’s one of the best things about this album. Earlier this year someone commented on Twitter that she’s starting to sound “old”. Furtado replied, “That is because I am “old”. I am 38. I am still the same person, just with wisdom and life experience. Maybe build a time machine?”
It’s that wisdom that allows her to assuringly sing something like, “You’re gonna be alright,” which she does on the beautiful album closer Phoenix. It’s this motto that allows her to so honestly explore the good and the bad on ‘The Ride’. It’s just an added bonus that she’s able to do that via addictive ear worms.
‘The Ride’ is not Furtado’s most innovative record but she’s explored that side and succeeded before. She’s earned the right to make a record about her life and she’s picked the perfect way to go about it. It’s an independent record with an alternative heart and that’s the best vessel for her right now. And for the doubters, she still has pop hits within her, the melodies on this record prove that, but it’s up for her to decide whether that’s fulfilling anymore.