Sunday, June 21, 2009

You say "commercial" like it's a bad thing: reflections on the Black Eyed Peas and their new Album The E.N.D.

I was nervous about the new Black Eyed Peas album. Though I enjoy “Boom Boom Pow” and “Imma Bee”—the singles they released as teasers to the album—both fall into the category I discussed in my last article “Is Cockiness Passé?” They are original and danceable songs, but much of the lyrics fall into that dated, self-aggrandizing category I am so tired of. Like “I’m so 3008 you’re so 2000 and late” from “Boom Boom Pow,” or “Imma be looking all fly and shit, Imma be the flyest chick” from…well, the song is obvious. But after spending the last two weeks listening to it over and over again I am very pleasantly surprised: it is a solid and creatively diverse album. No, it doesn’t have the raw quality of the early Peas, this is clearly a commercial venture, but it is a damn good one. And I was pleased to see that they tapped internal talent rather than relying heavily on outside artists as they had in the past.

And speaking of internal talent, I have to admit, I like Fergie. Though her solo work leaves something to be desired I always thought she was a smart addition to the group. I know there was an uproar at one point because supposedly someone isolated her singing (as they did with Linda McCartney) and it was awful, and from there it was deduced that she was merely a decorative and token pair of breasts for the group. There’s SO much I hate about this accusation. First of all, they never accuse men of such things (no one accused Taboo of being a dancing penis, and John Legend he ain’t). Secondly, since when is rap or hip hop about singing? Last I checked it was more spoken than sung and didn’t require the vocal stylings or acrobatics of a Marc Anthony. It is more about personality and story, and I think Fergie is as well-suited as her male counterparts to tell these stories.

In keeping with the BEP’s philosophy, the songs are not about drugs or hos or pimp-slapping (though they still have a sophomoric obsession with women’s body parts there are thankfully no revisits to the murky depths of “My Humps”) and the collection is positive to the point of being downright cheery. There are several party anthems—“Rock That Body,” “I Gotta Feeling,” “Party All the Time,” “Rockin to the Beat”—relationship songs—“Meet Me Halfway” and “Missing You”—and even mild social commentary in “Now Generation” (which has a strong 80s new wave vibe) and “One Tribe.” I was particularly pleased with how the melancholy story of “Missing You” then segues to “Ring-a-Ling,” the techno but quite lyrical song about a late night booty call.

There is all kind of speculation that the title The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies), implies this is the last album from the group. Much though I adore the Black Eyed Peas, that would be okay because I imagine that this creative energy won’t die but will rather go in four unique directions with solo work, production, movies and more. I am particularly looking forward to hearing the forthcoming solo albums from the less publicized members Taboo and my favorite, Apl De Ap. I really enjoyed the cultural insights of “The Apl Song” (off of Elephunk) and “Bebot” (from Monkey Business) and am always impressed with the depth and introspection of his rap. But if they do stay together I hope they continue to grow and evolve. For one, they’re getting older (they’re all in their mid-30s) and personally I find artists in their 40s or 50s singing songs about partying all night long kind of depressing (yes, that includes you Mick Jagger, I mean for Christ’s sake, you’re 65!).

I’m sure critics will slam the Peas for this unapologetically commercial record, but I feel this is was a natural progression for them. My IPod has not played anything else since its release and though I ‘m not sure how long it will endure or whether it will ever be considered “important,” it is relentlessly listenable, catchy and really quite fabulous. I’ve said before I think that is the greatest musical genius of the last twenty years (though Wyclef is a close second) and for this BEP fan, he and his crew didn’t disappoint with this release either.

1 comment:

msedano said...

now see here. stuff like this not only makes me feel old and out of touch, it proves it. i couldn't identify a black eyed pea if it jumped off my plate on new year's day.