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Album review: Black Eyed Peas' 'The E.N.D.'

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The Los Angeles-based quartet Black Eyed Peas is possibly the greatest bubble gum group of the Extreme Ice Fruit Explosion era. Following in the path forged by the Monkees, the Archies and the Spice Girls, the Peas present themselves as a cast of zany characters whose music is, on one level, like a child's game, and on another, as calculatedly smart and seductive as test-marketed pop gets.

The titles of the Peas' biggest hits tell the story: the giggle-inducing pun of "Don't Phunk With My Heart," the cheerily crude anatomical gesture of "My Humps" and now the Imax-ready sound effects burst of the chart-topping "Boom Boom Pow." Crass, good-hearted, funny, unfailingly loud scavengers of every shiny thing lying on pop's cross-cultural dance floor, the Peas present themselves as juvenile, but there's a lot going on behind the mugging.

"The E.N.D.," the group's fifth studio album and the third since the singer Stacy Ferguson (better known as Fergie) joined and took it from the earnest hip-hop underground to the glamorous, necessarily compromised pop mainstream, is more accomplished and more confounding than any of the foursome's previous efforts. It's likely to dominate radio and the Internet this summer, its sharp flavors simultaneously driving listeners nuts and drawing them back.

Will.i.am., the Peas' lead rapper and main idea man, has said that he doesn't envision "The E.N.D." (the acronym is for "The Energy Never Dies," a nod to quantum physics that's further explained by a robotically voiced introduction to the opening track) as a regular album. Instead, it's a template, designed to be constantly reworked through remixes, both in the recording studio and by DJs on the dance floor. Indeed, this collection has none of the attributes that make listeners love albums: no narrative arc, no ebb and flow, no break from the in-your-face beats and high-fructose hooks.

As a plunge into the users' manual of post-disco dance pop, "The E.N.D." is quite charming, if predictably goofy. Working with club-savvy collaborators including MSTRKRFT, David Guetta and Keith Harris, Will takes on electro, deep house, dancehall and dance-punk, to name just a few trends.

Ever true to their defining characteristic, the Peas have no shame. Fergie puts on ill-fitting dreadlocks for the faux-Jamaican "Electric City" and goes hilariously punk in "Now Generation," a rant about social media that sounds something like Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" rewritten on a Sidekick. "Ring-a-Ling" is a strangely innocent celebration of drunken booty-calling; "One Tribe" follows a bouncing-ball beat as Will suggests that world peace might come from an amnesia epidemic.

As always, Fergie's performances provide the most interest throughout the album. More than the rappers Taboo and Apl.de.ap, whose spotlight turns are always competent but downplayed, or Will, who clings to an Everyman persona that belies his role as the group's Wizard of Oz, Fergie embraces the essential cartoonishness of being a Pea.

Whether she's being weepy in "Meet Me Halfway" or superbad in "Imma Be," she takes her part to its logical end. Her obviousness once seemed to reflect a lack of skill, but by now it's clear that it's a strategy. As a means of grabbing attention from a hopelessly distracted audience, it works.

Most of "The E.N.D." doesn't ask too much from those fans. Its more substantive musical and thematic statements are interrupted by many others showing the Peas' deep, deep commitment to a good party. There's "Rock That Body," "Party All the Time," "Rockin' to the Beat" and "Out of My Head," and those are just the ones with telegraphic titles.

This filler, still waiting to be magically morphed by remixes, doesn't add a lot to the experience of listening to "The E.N.D." all the way through. Yet a strange kind of bliss does arise after being pummeled by nearly 70 minutes' worth of booms, baps and pows.

And sometimes in the midst of it, the Peas do let in some human sweetness and light. Consider "I Gotta Feeling," whose recently leaked video features brazen images of leggy women kissing, partygoers guzzling booze and Fergie in a thong and a bra.

And yet the song itself works on a less blatant level. Produced by French house music veteran Guetta with Frederic Riesterer, it's reminiscent of the Five Stairsteps' soul classic "Ooh Child," emulating that song's use of a repetitive, warm vocal line to signify a good mood coming on. That sunlight-colored hook is interrupted by silly raps; by the time Will and his mates are shouting "Mazel Tov!" it's impossible to begrudge the high.

Yes, the song says, this is a sloppy party. But it's one where you're welcome. So come on in.

--Ann Powers

Black Eyed Peas
"The E.N.D."
Interscope/Universal
Two and a half stars

Albums are rated on a scale of one to four stars. "The E.N.D." will be released on June 9.

Photo: The Black Eyed Peas perform in Japan. Credit: Getty Images.

 
Comments () | Archives (17)

Ann:
Robust and thought provoking. Excellent, even. Are you sure you are not a secret BEP/Fergie fan? I stopped analyzing this sort of thing decades ago, just after listening to “Miss You” performed by The Rolling Stones. Look, I am definitely going to buy this album come Tuesday. After the day is done, and the barbs have take their toll, listening to the BEP and/or Fergie is like dope; it provides the only pleasurable activity still left to me. It lifts my spirits, brings a smile to my face, and the care just melts away. Wish you could have found it in your heart to give them at least 3, or maybe even 3 and a half stars!
MarsRam

Dudeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

BEP hit on all cylinders here making this one of this year's standout gems. Book it.

There isn't much I can say aside from the fact that Black Eyed Peas, whom I used to hold a huge amount of respect for, have sunk lower than low, all for the sake of high chart rankings and piles of money.

I know that my opinion isn't going to negatively impact them any, but It's really depressing for me that I have to laugh my ass off at tracks like "Generation Now", because it's just stupid listening to these sellouts trying to be socially conscious.

Devin:
If you get derpressed listening to the Black Eyed Peas, may I politely suggest a solution. DON 'T LISTEN TO THEM!! Is somebody forcing you?

This is a really god album!

I'm still getting used to the new style of music. It's obvious they opted to go the dance/disco genre with this album. It's note my type of music, but the more I listen to songs like rock that body, imma be, rockin' to the beat, I start to like it more and more.

This album just makes your body move unconsciously. :D Good stuff!

I hopped on the BEP bandwagon after I heard "Don't Lie", which was pretty main stream. I bought all their albums and went to their concert before Fergie did her solo thing and will.i.am did his thing. I was really pumped to get THE END. I waited years for this garbage? When did they get swept up in the techno-pop thing and change their sound? How can any Black Eyed Peas fan thing this is good? This album is nothing like the previous four. The lyrics are horrible, and some songs sound like an 80's throw back. BEP fans this CD is truly a disaapointment.

I ran out and bought BEP's album and got exactly what Will said it was going to be.Perhaps others may consider a new sound for the group to be selling out but i think it is just about progress and tryin to move the music industry in another direction. especially with the success of rock and hip-hop collabos i think there is a possible dope ass mash up of house techno funk pop craziness mixed with hip-hop in our near future and thats what BEP is sort of tryin to pioneer with this album. Will mentioned on The View that when writing for this album he got inspired by the music of the australian club scene while filmin the wolverine movie. and i think it speaks strongly to that sound. its friggin major and i think ppl need to know what they r in for b4 they listen to an album so that they can form a clear and unclouded opinion about it. if u go into this thinking ur gonna hear thats the joint thats the jam or lets get retarded then u WILL BE DISAPPOINTED. but if ur like myself who is familiar with the aussie club sound then u will enjoy the hawtness that is THE END!

This is by-far the best album I've heard in a long time. I can listen to this one all the way through without skipping tracks. Wonder-Full!!!

Very different from Elephunk and Monkey Business. But I think that's the whole point of the E.N.D., creating a new beginning; introducing a new era a music. While some people say that BEP have just been sucked into mainstream pop, there is still something about BEP that sets them apart from most pop artists- they write their own music. While they have worked with some other musicians, the credit for each song still belongs to solely BEP. They have evolved & decided to try a new style by mixing electro/techno with their good ole hip-hop- simililar to the style of 3oh!3. But BEP put 3oh!3 to shame. It's almost like through the E.N.D., BEP have taken the style that 3oh!3 made an attempt at, & perfected it.
I personally am glad that BEP took a turn this direction. (Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of their older stuff as well.) There has always been something about BEP's hip-hop that has just been so... unique. Their sound has always stood out among other hip-hop artists. In the E.N.D., that unique BEP sound is still present, but it has just been mixed with a techno/electro/dance kinda vibe similar to Daft Punk. The result?- radio friendly, party friendly, concert friendly, hip-hop/electro/dance/techno/pop GOLD.
Long live BEP! Cant wait to hear more of their stuff in the future. (& I think that the E.N.D. is just a sample of what BEP has in store for us in the future) :))

I sooooooo love Hey Dj, Immabe and of course Boom Boom Pow!!! Never failed to amuse and awe your followers guys!!!!I groove to your new album every morning for a pick me up!!!! Cia and TIA for your next album. =)

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to ask you to allow me to use a review that I got of your website for my school GCSE ICT project. I hope that you will be generous enough to let me use that review i got of your excellent and very professional website.
Yours sincerely
Thomas
Ellis

I gotta feeling, that tonight is going to be a good night...OMG,the first time I heard this song, I thought it was a joke. One of those radio station jokes...when they make up songs that sound so stupid.....
But then I realized, The Black Eyed Peas? This has got to be the worst song ever. It's so ridiculous. It's an example of everything that is wrong with the music industry. Sit down in a circle, write a song in 5 minutes, and record it. That's what this song sounds like. I'm glad they are making money annoying the "s_ _ t" out of people. Seriously......Disgusting song....STUPID, talentless, dumbest lyrics EVER...just the worst song I've heard in my life....and there are lots of bad one's out there. If I was The Black Eyed Peas, I'd be embarrassed to have this out there...but I guess they just want the $$$.

This album was a real head turner. It was really futuristic and rhythmical. I liked the electricity of the album and also liked that the Peas still keep their independent attitude. They've always provided music that is alittle off the wall, but that's what has got them to this level so far. I would definitely The E.N.D. to most.

LETS GET RETARDED, LETS GET RETARDED IN HERE!!!, it seems the black eyed peas have taken their own advice and churned out what can be only described as acoustic dog shite. Anybody who even attempts to analyise something so rubbish is only fueling a fire, a fire that is responsible for burning the music industry to the ground. WHERE IS THE LOVE??? good question WILL.I.AM, good question.

I still cant believe they came out with this album. Their previous ones were just amazing, they had an edge because of their music style and lyrics( remember Where is the love? from Elephunk? ). With this album they just turned lazy, no song writing, just churn out songs using this macaroni 'n' cheese kind of recipe:

- A teaspoon of radio friendly base tracks made by some commercial DJ to ( which you can substitute with a pinch of computer generated ringtones)
- A pound of the same repetitive lyrics
- A cup of remixed album's leftovers
- A sparkle of Fergie's voice

Throw in the blender and that's it:

The E.N.D


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