Nelly Furtadowould be more respected among tastemakers if her father were a Sri Lankan rebel, if she had been born and raised in a Brazilian favela or if she had burst out of Miami with the jumbo sound she presents on “The Spirit Indestructible.” But, alas, she’s Portuguese-Canadian and seemed to sneak onto the American charts like a Trojan horse, earning an early hit with “I’m Like a Bird” before gradually morphing into one of the more innovative and adventurous pop singers in North America.
On her fifth studio album, “The Spirit Indestructible,” Furtado teams with superstar producer-songwriter Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Salaam Remi and Passion Pit founder Mike Angelekos to create a thick, jam-filled joyride with more emotional heft than all her peers save maybe Beyoncé. Madonna wishes she could make a record as vital and imaginative as even the lesser tracks on “Spirit.”
But who cares about lesser tracks when Furtado and Jerkins, whose work feels as vital and of-the-moment as his work with Destiny’s Child, Brandy and Jennifer Lopez earlier in his career, are behind the wheel? Few save maybe longtime Furtado collaborator Timbaland — his work with her on her 2006 album, “Loose,” confirmed that the singer understood a good funk jam. He’s nowhere to be found, even if the record’s got his label Mosley’s logo on it. His absence, in fact, was worrisome given their musical chemistry, but Jerkins and company do him one better.
At its best, as on the first single, “Big Hoops (Bigger the Better),” big rhythm envelops Furtado’s voice, carrying her solid structures with flexed muscles down unpredictable paths. “Big Hoops” ends with a huge double-speed breakbeat, in fact, that nearly single-handedly reintroduces British drum & bass music into the 2012 lexicon after a decade of underground hibernation.
This innovation is everywhere. On “Something,” she rides a hollow tom-tom beat and a rubbery bassline toward bliss that wouldn’t sound out of place at hot weekly beat night the Low End Theory, one that climaxes with a 16-bar cameo from rapper Nas. “Baby I could give you something,” she sings in the chorus in grand understatement. Ever confident of her allure both as a woman and an artist, Furtado on “The Spirit Indestructible” proves nearly untouchable.
“The Spirit Indestructible”
3 1/2 stars