As our introduction to the oddest Latin crossover star since Che, “Whenever Wherever” was less than ideal–the sort of ethnically charged dance-rock novelty that assimilated all too readily to the pop ebb and flow. But “Underneath Your Clothes” tinkered with the architecture of power balladry too forthrightly to fade into the background. The production–slow-building, damn nigh magisterial–rises from tactile finger-squeaks along guitar strings to the bridge’s triumphant toodle of Magical Mystery horns before falling again for to croak its coda of why Shakira deserves hot sex: “For being such a good girl.”
The message of “Underneath Your Clothes,” as I said at the time, is that “regular attendance at Mass entitles you to feel up the son of Argentina’s deposed president and to rip off a Bangles melody. (She’s right on both counts.)” Now, eight years later, with Shakira Antonio de la Rúa still indefinitely engaged, living together on his private Bahaman island, what’s there to add?
Well, “Underneath Your Clothes” has established itself as a ladies-first companion piece to John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland” (a song which, incidentally, no woman of my acquaintance can stomach.) But if Mayer can’t shrug off his privileged legacy–it’s the ol’ male gaze employing its colonial hands as agents of objectification–Shakira reclaimed the worthy poetic trope of the body of the beloved as landscape. “As every voice is hanging from the silence/ Lamps are hanging from the ceiling/ Like a lady tied to her manners/ I’m tied up to this feeling” ain’t Donne, but it ain’t bad. And she bolstered those metaphoric bits with sweetly direct sentiments like “Because of you, I’m running out of reasons to cry.”
Shakira’s voice–Cher as tutored by Alanis, freakier than either–remains the dividing line even today. Either the way she liquefies on “territory” tickles your brain or summons up images of frisky livestock. But if she gets you just right, you’re swept along a flight of epic intimacy that’s every bit as breathtaking as climbing the Andes to count the freckles on your beloved’s body, or her video’s dramatic moment of shirt-knotting.