The pattern of pop stardom often demands that breakout debut albums be followed by heavier, crazier sophomore efforts. But while Nelly Furtado's Folklore has a more serious tone than her sparkling 2000 hit Whoa, Nelly!, it represents a continuation, not a new direction. Her debut audaciously balanced Top 40 girl-pop with heartfelt acknowledgment of Furtado's hip-hop, folk-rock, and worldbeat roots; Folklore mainly loses that balance, emphasizing the roots instead of the mainstream byproduct. But it's also a more assured record, not hampered (as Whoa, Nelly! was) by Furtado's awkwardly elastic voice. She's lost the seesawing nasal cadence, and she modulates better, bringing depth and sweep to the price-of-fame ballad "Picture Perfect" and sincerity to the scat epic "Childhood Dreams." A more mature Furtado gives the stomping, celebratory "Força" a vocal performance that captures both its elemental foundation and its joy. Folklore's biggest flaw is that it lacks stick-in-the-head pop classics like "Turn Off The Light" or "Trynna Finda Way," or even the exhausting "I'm Like A Bird." The danceable exotica of "Fresh Off The Boat" flows well and generates some sweat while it's spinning, but it leaves no real aftertaste, and the single "Powerless (Say What You Want)," in spite of its pointed lyrics about the subtleties of entertainment-media racism, lacks musical bite. But though few tracks on Folklore stand out, the album hangs together agreeably, thanks to its parade of offbeat influences and guest stars. When Furtado duets with Caetano Veloso on "Island Of Wonder" and holds her own, its clear that she's developing into a formidable talent.
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