As Shakira slyly announces on Oral Fixation Vol. 2, she has a 24-inch waist and ”humble breasts”; she’d love to be her man’s ”cherry pie,” not to mention ”the owner of the zipper” on his jeans. But please don’t misunderstand; while Shakira has no problem playing up her tangible looks and sexuality, she’s a belly dancer with global ambitions. Her 2001 U.S. breakthrough, Laundry Service, was divided between English and Spanish tracks, and now she’s gone one step further. Earlier this year came Fijacion Oral Vol. 1, an all-Spanish album that integrated garage rock, lounge cooing, and mild electronica. The hot-on-its-heels sequel, Oral Fixation Vol. 2, aims for a different segment of the market: With the exception of one French verse, she sings entirely in English.
Like volume 1, Oral Fixation wants to go where few mainstream records venture. Mariachi horns bump up against surf guitars in the tart ”Animal City,” a don’t-go-there warning against fame and fake friends; bossa nova accents wind through ”Something,” one of only two tracks reprised from Fijacion Oral. Shakira’s voice has an alluring, serpentine quality that allows her to be throaty-sexy one moment and soothing the next. Admirably, she’s unafraid to slip a few poli-sci statements into the mix, taking veiled digs at overseas military action in ”Timor” and American muscle in ”How Do You Do.” The latter — truly weird musical science — features a blend of Gregorian chant, Latin murmurs, and a fully lubricated guitar solo.
Given those sorts of adventurous touches and the cred-boosting involvement of the ubiquitous Rick Rubin (listed as executive producer), Oral Fixation Vol. 2 has the makings of a world-beat crossover for eggheads and rock geeks. So why isn’t the album more thrilling? The answer is surely tied to her goals. In spite of her creative curiosity, Shakira still wants to be a large-scale star, and beneath Oral Fixation’s exotic window dressings lies fairly conventional pop — savvier than Ricky Martin’s, but hardly radical. Remove the Gypsy-caravan violin and marauder guitar from ”Your Embrace,” and what remains is teardroppy, adult-contemporary balladry. Yearning odes like ”Dreams for Plans” and ”The Day and the Time” are well-crafted but banal; ”Don’t Bother” and ”Illegal” are sister-of-Alanis catfights we’ve heard before.
The splashes of rock feel a bit stale too. The battering-ram guitars on ”Animal City” and ”Costume Makes the Clown,” wherein she cops to cheating on her guy, come off as factory-assembled. Although Oral Fixation is hardly the first time a Latina act has aimed straight for the middle of the North American road and nearly lost control of the wheel in the process, it’s among the most disappointing. For all the musical ingredients at her disposal, Shakira winds up with a relatively bland dish.