More than one music blog has described Nelly Furtado's forthcoming The Spirit Indestructible as a comeback album. But a comeback from what, and to where? And what clues to her direction do we determine from her fun new single Big Hoops (The Bigger the Better), released Tuesday?
Big Hoops is robotic urban pop, with Furtado's deadpan unvirtuosic voice mimicking the "eh-eh" ticks and fashionable patois of Rihanna. There's not much of a hook to it, but the rhythm is athletic and a song-closing speed-up in tempo attracts attention. The track is co-written with Rodney (Darkchild) Jenkins, one of the many A-list collaborators – including Metallica producer Bob Rock – involved with the Promiscuous singer's fifth album.
The throbbing club tune would seem to salute the chongas, those swaggering Hispanic woman-children who populate Miami malls, with their heads slathered hard and tight in hair gel and their ears heaving with giant hoop earrings – "the bigger the better."
She's no Madonna, but Furtado is not without guile. After her first two albums, Furtado admitted she suffered from writer's block. So she hooked up with Timbaland and his briefcase full of prime beats for 2006's sexy blockbuster Loose. In 2009, she courted an international audience with Spanish-sung Mi Plan, with material co-written with the Cuban-Canadian singer-songwriter Alex Cuba.
More recently, she sang on Is Anybody Out There, a single from K'naan, the socially conscious Somali-Canadian rapper. The ethnically versatile Furtado is clearly all about broadening her appeal. The music industry is getting smaller, but audiences are not. "I can go fast, I can go slow," boasts the bird-like singer on Big Hoops, "I can go places nobody else goes." And that's the plan.