The heralded arrivals of new pop artists, the ones who reveal qualities that will result in enduring work, are always accompanied by pressure to be a complete package — singer, songwriter, performer. Nelly Furtado has the first two down, and four Juno awards (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) to back her up. That third quality — presenting those songs in a captivating fashion with personality — proves elusive, however.
On record her songs spring to life from a base of orchestral arrangements that fade in and out against rhythms, many of them borrowed from the hip-hop world. The record’s delicate charms are discarded for the concert stage.
In the recorded version of “I Will Make U Cry,” the Portuguese-Canadian singer trades on the dichotomy of a worldly girlishness, speed-singing her way through the dismissal of a lover and then melting into a nicely layered group vocal. Onstage it became a relentless childish romp devoid of nuance; Furtado plays anger well, but having constructed as clever a song as this one, she scrapes away at the potency of its truthfulness.
In performance, she leans on hip-hop trademarks (make that cliches) as she extends her arms bent at the elbow, fingers rigid and splayed with her shoulder ducking and weaving to the beat. More frustrating is that Furtado telegraphed the one-note nature of her perf within the first four songs as she relied on the same stage moves, the same tempo and timbre in her set, and the annoying habit of shouting, “Hey, Los Angeles” after every song. With a guitar strapped on, she gained a bit of the earnestness that seems to help so many young singer-songwriters; it gave her the appearance of artist instead of strictly derivative singer.
Her band is unsure of itself as it bares a rock ‘n’ roll face but is more suited to Sade imitations. When she slowed the music for “Scared of You,” audience interest waned, and whatever hold she had on it was at least temporarily lost — when her singing was at its strongest and most arresting.