Nelly Furtado has never been one to stand still musically. Since the beginning of her career, she's used pop, hip-hop, dance, folk and multiple variations of Latin music as inspiration. So to call her latest album, The Ride — made in collaboration with Angel Olsen and St. Vincent producer John Congleton — a departure would be a bit of a misnomer. Rather, it's a long overdue stopover in the indie world, a place that's become much friendlier to pop stars over the past decade.
The two meet each other halfway here, ensuring that The Ride still sounds like a Nelly Furtado record, though one with its own sound and vibe. Furtado's latest transformation was brought about by an unspecified event that's referenced, thought never named, in opener "Cold Hard Truth," which lays bare the signer's dire straits. There are numerous lyrical references to some invisible force holding Furtado back. Overcoming this hurdle is the album's through-line, and it leads to the appropriately titled "Phoenix." In between, "Live" and "Sticks and Stones" offer great showcases for her surprisingly flexible vocals, which soar on each song's chorus without overwhelming the song.
Similarly, Congleton never gets too showy with his production, keeping the focus clearly on the album's star. The producer employs a clever mix of live and synthesized instrumentation that prevents his productions from sounding stale, and he wisely sidesteps any impulses to dabble in '80s nostalgia. Working within that framework, The Ride is an enjoyable, if slight, entry into Furtado's diverse discography, albeit one that lacks the kind of chart-shattering singles she's known for.
Furtado's musical restlessness often gets the best of her. "Carnival Games," a limp power-ballad, stops the record's early momentum, and it's aided and abetted by "Tap Dancing," a lite-MOR number that was added to the record at the last minute. It does the album, and by extension Furtado, few favours.
Furtado has described The Ride as the first album she's made with a consistent sound, both lyrically and sonically. Yet that dedication to cohesion has blunted the individual specific ambitions that her best singles embody. The result is a better-than-most modern pop record filtered through an indie aesthetic that nevertheless lacks the forward-thinking drive of the best of either genres. (Nelstar)