There is a certain level of caution when approaching a Black Eyed Peas [click to read] album. The trio-turned-quartet molded a career out of being the Fugees without a Lauryn (sorry Fergie). That is to say, they've capitalized on their own eccentricities by making them Pop-friendly. Every Peas release inched them further into the mainstream. However, The E.N.D. brings them a step back, using will.i.am's production to prove their versatility...and at times, they make a convincing argument.
The moneymaking "Boom Boom Pow" begins The E.N.D., which is a gift and a curse to some, considering if this was the only reason why they bought the album, they need not move past that. But they should. Fergie's slapstick raps in a similar key to "Fergalicious" (bka J.J. Fad's "Supersonic") don't add much to the Chicago Juke-influenced track, but she breaks up the monotony of the 808s. While The E.N.D. isn't some mind-blowing experiment in digitization as the album's segues might suggest, it is one of the few Pop releases that could be played from beginning to end - as background noise or anything else.
"Rock That Body" follows, with an "Atomic Dog" feel like the late '70s burgeoning era of Rap, modernized enough to sound like a cross between Chromeo and Daft Punk. In fact, most of The E.N.D. rests on that theme. While will.i.am produced 90% of the album save a few tracks including "Showdown" a strange poppy drum concoction co-produced by the Peas' apl.de.ap, the biggest problem with The E.N.D. isn't in the concept; it's in the execution. will.i.am simply doesn't have the team to fulfill his boardroom dreams.
His plans for Fergie as a mid-'80s Madonna are derailed by her desire to be a real singer, evidenced by "Meet Me Halfway" where all it needed was a chirpy chick, but Fergie wanted to "sang." The good news is the album is chock full of funky production that often drowns out any misleading vocals. It even closes with a primarily instrumental "Rockin To the Beat" but not before digging into their socially conscious pockets with "One Tribe" a Live Aid-sounding version of "Where Is the Love."
You know an "urban" group can penetrate the "mainstream" when the only threatening band member is a crazy white chick, and the Black Eyes have paved their way based upon that. It's an old artist trick to win their fan base with super pop only to make room for their "serious" albums. The E.N.D. may be that starting off point, or it may just be the Peas' experimental album. Regardless of what's next, the now is decent enough.