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Nelly Furtado 

Loose (Geffen)

We first encountered Nelly Furtado on 2000's swooping "I'm Like a Bird," one of the millennium's first great singles, and the link between the Christina Aguileras and Michelle Branches of the world. Now, here's Furtado, a new mother, declaring herself Loose on an album of straight-ahead Timbaland beats and eyebrow-raising detours into open bedrooms. Whoa, Nelly! Has Furtado slapped on the assless chaps of conformity?

Recently, I overheard a group of twentysomething women discussing how promiscuous is a tougher slur to toss out than one-syllable putdowns like slut and ho' (even whore is somehow too long, one observed). Furtado is forcing us to enunciate to consider, even for a moment, what we're saying. And the tune itself actually sounds sensual, with its cushiony beat and cool splashes of '80s synth. Her vocals float above everything, but pulling strings rather than letting go, she coos and flirts; she's as lithe as Tim's guest rap is ponderous. Furtado is game, but Timbo brings beats, not chemistry, and Loose isn't a love child, but a bump-and-grind that never finds a groove. "Do It" weakly evokes J.J. Fad, "Glow" is a coy request for an orgasm with a deep but ineffectual bass buzz, and "Showtime" is just another lush commitment jam earmarked for radio.

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