If you ask folks whether the Black Eyed Peas are more Afrika Bambaataa or Lady Gaga, you’ll find that the fairly innocuous quartet are quite polarizing. One thing’s for sure: production maestro will.i.am has these guys operating in another stratosphere in terms of success and crossover appeal. While Monkey Business and Elephunk rode the Fergie wave to mainstream success, it was last year’s The E.N.D. that provided a huge shift in sound for the group, and launched them to a new level of popularity. Whatever your opinion of the group’s 2009 release, it was undisputed that it was a hit factory, spawning five infectious singles, amounting to one third of the album.
It’s refreshing to hear the Peas remind us of their Hip Hop roots with “Light Up the Night,” which overtly samples Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” “Do It Like This” is even more surprising in this respect, with some unmistakable boom bap in the background. That being said, the songwriting and production are greatly uninspired. No one goes into a Black Eyed Peas album in 2010 seeking formidable lyricism, but more often than not, the repetitive, chanting nature of this album is ludicrous. “The Time (Dirty Bit)” does an incredibly lazy interpolation of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” but the group shouting “I’m. Having. A. Good. Time. Wit’chu.” takes the cake. Seriously, it’s almost self-parody.
And what of the production? As expected, The Beginning bangs. In the car, through a pair of those ultra-expensive “Beats By Dre,” or in a club, the album keeps the bass thumping nearly front to back. Sure, things are more interesting when the group lets in a little Rock to switch things up on “Someday” (not to mention letting Fergie letting loose a little with the vocals), but it’s clear that the Peas have a singular goal: to make you dance. In that respect, it succeeds, so shut off your brain for about an hour and enjoy. The awkward exception is “Own It,” a “You-Can-Do-It” inspirational anthem. The blame for that one falls squarely on will.i.am, who did the same thing on his solo release, Songs About Girls. Why throw out the album’s cohesion when that’s one of the few things it has going for it?
Though The Beginning’s title suggests it’s a prequel of The E.N.D., and therefore would share a similar aesthetic, the album really is far too derivative. Standing alone, this album would be a smashing success. But in context, very few of the songs on the album can hold a candle to E.N.D.’s. “The Time (Dirty Bit)” is nothing more than diet, caffeine-free “I Gotta Feeling” that it’s laughable, and the same can be said of the relationship between “Do It Like This” and last year’s “I’mma Be.” Simply put, this album suffers from Beyoncé syndrome – it does nothing to further the group’s catalogue. Last time around, the Black Eyed Peas were exploring new territory, and the results were contagious. Now, it seems as though the group, particularly will.i.am, is stuck on auto-pilot.