Listening to an album that is performed in a language you don’t speak is an interesting experience. On the one hand, the incomprehensibility of the lyrics frees you to simply enjoy a song’s rhythms and melodies without the cognitive interferences spoken language can provide. On the other, you are acutely aware that there is an entire dimension to the song that you are unable to engage with and be informed by.
El Dorado, Colombian singer-songwriter Shakira’s eleventh studio album, despite the occasional dalliance with English, is a thoroughly Spanish-language affair, firmly grounded in the Latin music scene. Lead single, Chantaje (“Blackmail”), features Colombian singer Maluma – who also appears on Trap – and the track’s reggaeton musicality is quite catchy, holding the listener’s attention even if they can’t understand the he-versus-she back-and-forth. French rapper Black M features on Comme Moi (“Like Me”), while Canadian reggae fusion group Magic! appear on the English version of the song, What We Said.
After listening to both versions of Comme Moi, it feels that not understanding the lyrics leads to the better outcome for the listener. It’s not that the lyrics are bad, just unexceptional and plain. It’s a little surprising to find out that El Dorado shares two songs with other artists’ albums. Déjà Vu, featuring Prince Royce, appears on his fifth album, and La Bicicleta (“The Bicycle”) with Carlos Vives was also released on Vives’ self-titled album. The latter is a simple, catchy pop tune with a Latin flare, so it is easy to see why each artist wanted the song on their own album.
While Shakira has always been known for her strong vocal abilities, opening and closing numbers, Me Enamoré (“I Fell in Love”) and Tonelades (“Tons”), illustrate how well her voice has matured over the years. For all its pleasures, El Dorado is a lacklustre record that fails to captivate for more than a solitary moment or two and is best enjoyed for its simple surface pleasures.