It’s fast approaching 20 years since Nelly Furtado first graced the charts. Her debut hit I’m Like a Bird, taken from her multi-platinum selling debut album Whoa, Nelly!, was a huge hit across the globe and catapulted her into a massive star. 2003 follow-up album Folklore seemed to suggest that Nelly may be a one album and done success but she managed to turn things round and deliver her biggest album to date in 2006 when he changed direction teaming up with Timbaland for Loose. That album sold over 12 million copies worldwide and Nelly struggled with her follow-up The Spirit Indestructible in 2012, which largely went unnoticed.
Five years on and Nelly is back with her latest album The Ride. Teaming up with producer John Congleton who has worked with artists ranging from St Vincent to Erykah Badu, Nelly has firmly embraced her pop side for her latest album. For the most part of the edgy R&B and hip-hop rhythms that have dominated much of her last two albums are absent here. Cold Hard Truth is a beat heavy start to the record with Nelly seemingly reflecting on the breakdown of her marriage as she rises against adversity to come out stronger on the other hand. Lyrically the song recalls Nelly’s I’m Like a Bird with lots of references to flying away.
Potentially the biggest problem with The Ride is that there isn’t a big single on here. The Spirit Indestructible suffered from the same issue but it’s hard to see any of these matching the heights of say Maneater, Powerless (Say What You Want) or Turn Off the Light. Sonically the album is easy on the ears and Congleton has softened the rougher edges of Nelly’s voice that can sometimes cause her voice to grate; Big Hoops (Bigger The Better) still makes me shudder.
That isn’t to say there isn’t plenty to enjoy on The Ride though. The wistful Carnival Games is beautiful moment, the playful Magic features a joyously infectious melody despite its sad lyrics, and Palaces shows off Nelly’s feistier side as she reflects on a relationship going wrong. One of the strongest moments on the album is Live, which features hand claps and layered vocals alongside plinky plonky melodies.
The album comes to a close with the empowering ballad Phoenix, which shows a much softer side to Nelly’s voice than we’ve heard before. It’s a stunning moment and a song that explores resilience in the darkest of times.
The Ride is an album that has much to offer but it’s not as accessible as Nelly’s previous records. For me it’s a much stronger album than The Spirit Indestructible but it lacks the commercial impact of Nelly’s first three albums. At this point in her career, it seems that Nelly is making music that makes her happy and for that you have to commend it. It could have been easy to try and recapture the Loose era but The Ride shows that Nelly has much more exploration to do with her music.
Track List: 1. Cold Hard Truth 2. Flatline 3. Carnival Games 4. Live 5. Paris Sun 6. Sticks And Stones 7. Magic 8. Pipe Dreams 9. Palaces 10. Tap Dancing 11. Right Road 12. Phoenix Record Label: Eleven Seven Music Release Date: 31st March 2017