The Black Eyed Peas latest release, The Beginning, was suggested by one of our readers who wanted to “share this album with the world.” Two problems immediately arise with this: 1) The Beginning peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart and has gone platinum in several countries and 2) we have 27 followers on Facebook (two of which run this site). We’re not going to help their position on the charts.
Also, I would have to have something glowing to say about this record.
Speaking to the title of The Beginning, Will.i.am said it “symbolizes growth, new beginnings and starts a fresh new perspective.” English teacher criticism aside, I do not see a new beginning; I see a descent into the vortex of mediocrity brought on by fame. The Beginning is a collection of sweaty, dance club beats that seem hastily written and are immediately forgettable.
In the opening track, a reimagining of “Time of My Life,” entitled “The Time (Dirty Bit),” contains a voice over that proclaims: “This is international mega radio smasher.” In the opening song, the Black Eyed Peas are telling us that they are looking toward international fame. How do you become universally loved? Become universally accessible. To be accessible to billions of people of varying cultures and languages, you must be broad. This means shedding anything that may be controversial or slightly esoteric.
And Auto-Tune. Employ lots of Auto-Tune.1
With modified vocals; unoriginal beats; and lyrics that read like they were born from an 8th grade writing exercise, I have to ask what this is the beginning of? If this is the end of putting out creative pop and the beginning of churning out albums for money, then I wish for the days of old. This may sound contradictory to what I wrote about Against Me! selling out versus selling records, but the Black Eyed Peas have been selling records at a good rate for several years, and there is a difference between putting out a good mainstream product and putting out a sub-par one.
That being said, I am not even going to begin to assume I know Will.i.am’s thought process, but I do have questions for him:
Did a record executive shove a pile of cash into his face and ask him to produce a new album?
Was his schedule too full of appearances as a talking head on various news shows and artists requesting his production expertise to put a lot of care into his own project?
What made him think writing a song entitled “Love You Long Time” was a good idea?
When I listen to The Beginning, I hear a money truck backing up and a filled-up daily planner. From this, I conclude that writing an artfully crafted album was on his back burner.2
I do not mean to be too harsh on these four millionaires; I just know the Black Eyed Peas can be better. They have a history of being forward-thinking and not being confined to the conventions of a particular musical genre. It just doesn’t seem like they did enough of that in their latest installment.
The Beginning does have some redeeming aspects. Despite pedestrian lyrics, many songs illustrate the camaraderie among club goers and the high they ride during a dance-filled night. There is hope that the night will not end; that the sun will not come up and fatigue will not set in. Unfortunately, this great imagery is tempered by lines like: “Girl you stole my heart like a klepto/Butterfly’s in my tummy need Pepto.”
Yet, the songs get stuck like little musical splinters in the recesses of my brain. Two songs in particular need special care. “Do It Like This” is a well-done throwback to classic hip-hop. Coincidentally, this is one of the two songs on the album not produced by Will.i.am. “Whenever” is a respectable pop song which leverages the otherwise underutilized Fergie.
If you want a predictable cross-section of club music, then you either already own this album or plan to buy it. If you like previous music by the Black Eyed Peas, you may find something here, but don’t expect anything innovative. If neither of these fills your qualification card, then you should probably look elsewhere for a dip into pop or dance music.
And hope for truly new beginnings for this otherwise innovative band.1. For those who may not know what Auto-Tune is, it is an audio enhancement software program that levels out vocals and manipulates them to correct poor pitch and hide the fact that a vocalist can’t sing in key. Antoine Dodson needs Auto-Tune. Rebecca Black needs Auto-Tune. Will.i.am and Fergie? They don’t need Auto-Tune. But with the aforementioned YouTube sensations and their peers becoming commonplace, accomplished singers feel the need to have their voices digitally tweaked.
2. This doesn’t explain his outfit from Super Bowl XLV and why he chose to dress like a superhero from Liquid Television’s “Dog-Boy.”