Call it Shakira, reloaded. With the help of the high-powered songwriting team known as the Matrix, the Colombian singer is exploring her '80s-rock roots for her second English-language album, due next August. ''She comes from the Latino thing, but she's so well-versed in cool rock music,'' says the Matrix's Lauren Christy, whose three-member collective has crafted hits for Avril Lavigne (''Sk8er Boi''), Liz Phair (''Why Can't I''), and Hilary Duff (''So Yesterday''). ''The main influences that we were dealing with were the Cure and the Pretenders. That's what she was pushing us to do.''
With its pop hooks, Latin beats, and belly-dancing videos, Shakira's oddly titled 2001 album ''Laundry Service'' went three-times platinum, and showed Anglos why she was already a Latin-music superstar. But despite that formula's success, Shakira is looking whenever, wherever for inspiration this time. ''She's not really focused on doing Latin rhythms on this new record,'' says Matrix member Scott Spock. ''It more of a combination of things. She'll start with a rock-type feel, and maybe throw in an Arabian-type rhythm underneath it. And then throw in a Latin guitar.''
Though Shakira has met with mixed critical reception in the U.S. (EW called her an ''unapologetic Charo for a new generation''), the Matrix's Christy insists that the singer -- who produces her own music -- is ''totally in control of every aspect of what she's doing. She knows what she's doing lyrically and musically, from the hi-hat to the kick [drum] to every keyboard part.'' Adds Christy, ''She worked us so hard -- by the end of the week, I was exhausted. I felt she'd drained every idea out of me.. She's kind of like Prince.''
The singer-songwriter has enlisted R&B scribe Dallas Austin (TLC, Madonna), for songwriting help. In addition, she'll likely return to some of the tunesmiths who aided her on ''Laundry Service,'' according to her publicist. Among the seven songs written with the Matrix are ''Bad Weather'' and ''Love is Just a Stranger,'' which Christy describes as ''kind of dark, with cool guitars.''
Shakira will spend some of her time between now and the CD's release working in a just-announced role as a goodwill ambassador for children's charity UNICEF. And in the meantime, her publicist warns, everything could change: ''Along the way Shakira could very well decide to do a waltz concept album. So until the fat lady sings, we don't know.'' Which, by the way, doesn't mean Shakira's self-transformation will extend to a weight gain.