For way longer than it seems remotely probably, the Black Eyed Peas have been crafting beat-driven, synth-laden songs that provide the anthem for a sports game or wedding/graduation/bar mitzvah party.
So there’s no reason for them to switch it up on “The Beginning,” which, despite the title, is more like “The Continuation.”
Similar to the BEP music that has come before, the songs on “The Beginning,” out today (30), are sterile and, for the most part, devoid of emotion, other than an occasional positive bromide. The lyrics are simply in service of the beats beyond supplying a catch phrase or two, such as with past smashes, “Let’s Get It Started,” “I Gotta Feeling,” or “Boom Boom Pow.”
The members of BEP—Will.I.Am, Fergie, Taboo and Apl.de.ap— are really alchemists, collecting beats from around the world, a snippet here, a synth line there, to concoct a dance party, which Fergie then weaves her serviceable voice around. Or at least that’s what happens when it works.
First single, “The Time (Dirty Bit),” gets all its pizazz from lifting “Dirty Dancing’s end-theme, “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life,” whose instantly recognizable chorus is juxtaposed with a robotic, futuristic verse. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It can be a risky gambit. Taking a beloved tune and pairing it with beats can alienate or work to draw new listeners in (see Nicki Minaj’s “Your Love.”
Sadly, the first single is also the high point of the album. To be sure, there are other flashes of inspiration and undeniable beats, but no song ever settles into a sustainable groove. Instead, the songs careen from one hammer hit to the next, using repetitive droning as connective tissue.
BEP mix up the beats in a “from-Point- A-to-Point-B” way, but there’s really no more innovation than that. Sometimes Fergie starts a song, sometimes Will.I. Am does. Sometimes there’s a hint of a reggae beat, other times a touch of ska or ‘80s dance, but that’s really about as far afield as “The Beginning” strays.
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At 15 tracks, “The Beginning” is about five songs too long, guaranteeing that at a certain point, you’ll run screaming for the exits in search of a real piano or an acoustic guitar. It’s better to mete it out in smaller, a-few-songs-at-a-time doses. It is impossible to listen to “The Beginning” from, uh, beginning to end, and not have a headache at the end from all the thumping. Having said that, it’s clear that some songs are meant for the beginning of the evening at the club, while others are definitely meant for after some mind-altering substance has kicked in (yes, “The Coming,” we’re talking to you.)
Among the notable tracks are “The Situation,” in which Fergie summons up her inner Terri Nunn. The new-wave dance rave up has nothing to do with “The Jersey Shore” and everything to do with a lover who is constantly let down by her partner.
Other influences abound. “Fashion Beats” borrows from Chic, then Fergie breaks into a rap redolent of Blondie’s “Rapture.” “Do It Like This” has a Lil Wayne feel to it in its hypnotic repetition and piercing beat. (It also liberally throws around the N word. Fair warning in case you find that offensive).
“Love You Long Time” isn’t about some hooker with a poor command of the English language, as the title would indicate, rather it’s a monotonous love song that sounds like it’s sampling the opening chords of “Lady, Lift Me Up” by the Commodores.
On “Own It,” BEP try to switch things up a bit. “Everybody is a star, it don’t matter who you are, no, keep on reaching for your dreams because it ain’t as crazy as it seems,” an auto-tuned Will.I.Am sings, as a military beat taps out in the background. It’s as inspirational a song as BEP has ever recorded.
Similarly, “The Best One Yet (The Boy)” is about celebrating the good times in life. But again, Will.I.Am seems to be channeling T.I. through half the songs. It could be a BEP anthem, but it never takes flight.
Album closer, “Play It Loud,” is, the name notwithstanding, one of the quieter tracks on the album and one of the most endearing with its U2-like guitar. When Will.I.Am sings “I pledge my allegiance to rhythm and sound,” you know he means it. You just wish he promised such equal fidelity to a little heart and soul as well.