Nelly Furtado's Whoa, Nelly! is one of those albums that's designed to be a surprising, precocious debut -- the kind of record that's meant to make a listener exclaim, well, "whoa nelly" upon the first spin. From that first play, it's evident that Furtado is indeed an audacious songwriter, not at all hesitant to bare her emotions, tackle winding melodies, and bend boundaries to the point that much of the record sounds like folk-pop tinged with bossa nova and backed by a production designed for TLC. Clearly, this is a musician with big, serious ambitions, a notion that is supported not only by her naked lyrics but especially by her singing. Furtado is a restless vocalist, skitting and scatting with abandon, spitting out rapid repetitions, bending notes, and frequently indulging in melismas. This, more than anything, makes her a bit of an acquired taste, since her relentless vocalizing can obscure hooks that are nevertheless there. Once you appreciate (or grow to understand) her quirks, Whoa, Nelly! unfolds as a rewarding, promising debut, albeit one with its flaws. True, most of those flaws arise from its naïveté: a tendency to push too hard, whether it's in piecing together genres in an attempt to create something original or lyrics that can sound a little sophomoric in their soul-searching. These don't arrive in isolated instances, either -- they're wound into the songs themselves. You either choose to be annoyed by these quirks or become charmed by them, realizing it's a first album, and savoring the talent that's apparent on much of the album. Many of her blends of pop, folk, dance, and Latin are beguiling; she has a knack for strong pop hooks (particularly on "On the Radio," "Well, Well," and "Turn Off the Light"); her lyrical imagery can be evocative; she has a sly sense of humor; and, when she doesn't get carried away, she's an inventive, endearingly eccentric vocalist. These are the things that endure after that first slightly bewildering spin of Whoa, Nelly! and those are the things that make you wonder where she goes from here.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine