The Black Eyed Peas: The Beginning
Music ••½ Sound ••••
Call me naive, but I think album titles should mean something. When the Black Eyed Peas unleashed their poptastic The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies) in 2009, it was tempting to assume that the record signified some kind of conclusion, to either their disco-for-the-2000s aesthetic or their fiddle-while-Rome-burns party ethic. Or maybe it was something more fundamental — like back in 2003 when they pushed the reset button, hired Fergie (Stacy Ann Ferguson), and let go of the last vestiges of their breakdancing beginnings.
That’s when will.i.am started to dress better and cook up club-banging anthems that deified late nights, fizzy drinks, cool-as-an-oyster men, and hot women. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t judge. Bigger thinkers than I have addressed the problems of a world spinning off its axis by partying all night. Think Henry Kissinger frugging away at Studio 54.
Even if you don’t like the idea of dancing deliriously under blinking neon as a panacea for your problems, the music that the Black Eyed Peas make now is, for some, as irresistible and addictive as late-1970s club drugs. Which is where The Beginning takes its inspiration. In case you thought it was meant to jump off from where The E.N.D. stopped, it doesn’t. Instead, these 15 tracks (on the album’s Deluxe Edition) return listeners to those halcyon and strangely more innocent days when Bianca Jagger rode into a disco on a white horse while Salvador Dalí talked Brooke Shields’s beautiful head off.
You can hear the sound of silk against leather on standout track “Fashion Beats,” which purloins Chic’s “Forbidden Lover” while Fergie takes a luscious lipstick-stained bite out of Debbie Harry’s cooing French from Blondie’s “Rapture.” You can hear the same sound on “The Time (Dirty Bit),” which appropriates the chorus of Dirty Dancing’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Listening to this album, I receive blurry images of a thin and sinuous Chaka Khan in her belly chains writhing under the strobes, while Mick Jagger struts in too-low jeans.
Is it hedonistic and superficial? Yes.
Is it wrong? Well . . .
Even will.i.am worries about it, despite the 11 million copies that The E.N.D. has sold worldwide. As he confesses on “Fashion Beats,” in a moment of self-reflection: “Hey, doctor, is something wrong with me? / Am I crazy? Do I need a remedy? / I’m a club rocker, that’s my personality.” But before he ever reaches a personality crisis, it’s always time again to dance the night away. So much for a new beginning.