Artist: Nelly Furtado
Title: The Ride
Label: Nelstar
Release Date: March 31, 2017

Nelly Furtado already knows what you’re thinking. “It’s been a long time coming,” she opens The Ride, her first new record in five years.

The album’s first song, “Cold Hard Truth,” featuring that kicker of a lyric, ensures her comeback be ushered by a grand entrance. She punctuates her last word in threes in sync with the banging drums as if to further emphasize. What follows not long after is the advertised cold, hard truth: “I can make it without you.”

Quite a few things could fit in place of that “you.” Furtado ditched the major-label system for The Ride, released instead on the singer’s own independent imprint, Nelstar. (Her 2009 Spanish-language album, Mi Plan, was also released from Nelstar.) The new music also moves away from the club-pop sound her name has been attached to since Loose and one she continued to pursue in her previous album, The Spirit Indestructible. “Want another banger?” She once asked in the latter record to introduce its single, “Parking Lot.” It’s hard to imagine such a question to arise in this one.

Not to say The Ride doesn’t bang. Furtado called upon John Congleton to produce the record through Annie Clark of St. Vincent. His spastic, earthy sounds heard in Clark’s St. Vincent work as a good reference points to the raw, anxious rock beating behind Furtado in songs like “Flatline” or “Paris Sun.” But more than his introduction of the most outre sounds to fill a Nelly Furtado album, his touch of reduction elevates the album. The Ride feels spacious as it is loud. No matter how noisy they get, the songs don’t feel cluttered with noise.

The Ride fixates upon a separation as alluded in “Cold Hard Truth.” But while Congleton’s gruff sounds back up the tough bravado shown in the opening track, Furtado refuses to pretend she walks out of the fire completely unscathed. She finds glory in independence, though she also admits to a void need filling. This classic dilemma is outlined under the same breath in “Live”: “‘Cause I don’t need you — but I want you.” While “Live” treats her old flame as a habit she can’t yet kick, it gets the best of her in “Flatline” as desperation turns fatalistic. “Come on, resuscitate me,” she croons.

Furtado thrives as she pulls parts from the wreckage. The sparseness in the production sets a warm atmosphere of one-on-one intimacy for her to share moments of private rawness. She’s stuck in denial in “Magic,” the innocence of her question making her heartbreak more poignant: “Have you just grown up and had enough that you don’t believe in magic anymore?” “Tap Dancing” sets quite a scene as she puts on her dancing shoes just for her old flame to look at her one more time. And the elegantly flowing “Pipe Dreams” might be the soundtrack for the performance.

The Ride is best kept within this personal space. Furtado’s anthems of independence may work in the frame of the singer’s own life, but it doesn’t fit as nicely outside of it. Aimlessness wrapped into an extended metaphor of a day at the fair, “Carnival Games” doesn’t exactly have the depth Furtado thinks she has. Optimism might provide a tough driving force for “Palaces,” but it also flattens her experience. Mileage may vary following Furtado’s road to self-healing, though you got to give her one thing: she’s not trying to hide that it’s going to be a rough path ahead.

Review by: Ryo Miyauchi