The news of the sales count for Nelly Furtado's latest album The Spirit Indestructible must have hit Nelly fans like a ton of bricks. Then again, there obviously aren't that many Nelly fans left to begin with, because according to SoundScan sales, she only sold 5,731 copies of her new album.
This is heartbreaking. Nelly's last English-language album, 2006's Loose, was a blockbuster. It sold 219,000 copies the first week and went on to sell roughly 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. The gap between the first-week sales of Loose and The Spirit Indestructible is not just a drop in record sales, it's an evaporation of a fan base.
Yes, record sales have been on the decline in the industry for some time, but there's no sales climate in which it's acceptable for a major-label artist to post numbers like that during the first week. Not after the label has dropped serious cash and resources pushing three singles ("Big Hoops," "The Spirit Indestructible" and "Parking Lot") that were basically declared dead on arrival.
Some might try to argue that Nelly would've been better off if she had paired up with Timbaland. Their chemistry in 2006 was undeniable, but given Timbaland's recent struggles with landing hits of his own, that's probably not necessarily the case in 2012.
Others might point out that Nelly's disappearance from the English-language pop scene for 6 years essentially made her irrelevant to today's crowd. Perhaps, but Nelly has always taken roughly 4-year breaks between albums. Alicia Keys also takes lengthy breaks between her albums and she just scored a hit with her comeback single "Girl on Fire". So, no, Nelly's absence alone doesn't explain the drop-off.
When Nelly embarked on the recording for this album, she said she hoped to recapture some of the fresh-faced spirit of her debut, Whoa, Nelly!. But if that was the aim, then Nelly's decision to tie her fate to Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins completely missed the mark. The two didn't mesh in any meaningful way on any of the singles they produced together and nothing approached the organic, authentic sounds heard on Nelly's debut.
"Big Hoops" was a fun throwback R&B/hip-hop track, but it felt woefully out of step with the times. It also seemed overly dense for no good reason and lacked a power pop hook. This is one instance where Nelly needed to strip away a few layers in order to really deliver what she was striving for, which was a care-free, express-yourself, celebratory anthem.
"The Spirit Indestructible" suffered from being overwrought and saddled with dated production. It's a little late for Nelly to jump on the "It Gets Better" bandwagon, but even the hokeyness of the self-love anthem could've been salvaged if the stale Miami bass production didn't kick in. The best thing that can be said about TSI is that it at least had a melody.
"Parking Lot," the album's latest and likely last gasp, is at least on trend. It sounds pretty similar to something M.I.A. would produce. Unfortunately, M.I.A.'s no hit-maker herself these days so perhaps she wasn't the best model to follow.
But again, the biggest hurdle to overcome here is the production. Whose idea was it to layer Nelly's droning vocals like that on the verse? And why does she sound like she popped a boatload of Ambien before she hit the recording booth?
The best proof of how salvageable "Parking Lot" could've been with some vocal arrangement tweaks and production adjustments is right there in her live performances.
Check out Nelly's AOL Sessions performance of the song which is far more tolerable and enjoyable. With Nelly singing with vibrance, melody and personality, "Parking Lot" suddenly has a youthful "Lucky Star" vibe to it.
The only hope left is that, by some miracle, "Parking Lot" goes from dud to stud. That's a tall feat since pop radio has done nothing but pay Nelly Furtado dust this entire project. Quick, is there a hit TV show or movie that she can attach this to for iTunes sales?
Fans of Nelly Furtado will inevitably blame Nelly's record label, Interscope, for dropping the ball somehow. After all, the label did decide to drop the album despite the obviously frigid response to Nelly's three singles. Then again, these same fans would cry foul if the label repeatedly delayed Nelly's album until she recorded new material and landed a hit. So there's no way the label could win.
Now, it's a question of moving forward. Will Nelly remain with Interscope after this? It's hard to imagine things will remain amicable between Nelly and her label with these kinds of numbers, so don't be surprised to hear word of her release in the coming months.
But regardless of whether she stays or goes, Nelly needs to reorient her musical compass. Cause it's off and she should've known that way before any music executive had to sit down and tell her the ugly truth.