After two listens to their new album, Monkey Business, I was ready to give Black Eyed Peas a black eyed review. After breaking through with their 2003 album Elephunk, the Peas seemed to have let the success corrupt their music. The follow-up seemed mindless, and even worse, boring.
But then something strange happened on my third listen. I was a little bit charmed by some of the songs.
What is a reviewer to do when he feels so conflicted? I decided to break the album's tracks into three categories to better articulate my feelings:
1) The Songs I Like
Pump It is a fun party tune set to the surf guitar and horns of Dick Dale. You've heard this song in Best Buy commercials. Don't Phunk With My Heart is the first single, and it does its job just fine, though I could live without the Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam lift from I Wonder If I Take You Home, especially since Kylie Minogue did it better on her last album. Don't Lie is a less-exciting sequel to Shut Up, from Elephunk. The guys explain themselves in the verses, and Fergie doesn't want to hear it on the chorus. Gone Going takes the head-scratcher of an idea to sample a Jack Johnson tune, but the song itself is an effective cautionary tale about someone who lets success go to their head. Finally there's Like That, the best song on the album. There's a guest appearance takeover by Q-Tip, Cee-Lo, John Legend, and Talib Kweli and the result sounds like classic hip-hop.
2) Songs That I Hate
There are only four of them, Dum Diddly, Disco Club, Ba Bump, and Audio Delite At Low Fidelity. The reason I hate them is the same. They are all ridiculous. When I reviewed Elephunk, I praised the Peas for marrying their socially conscious lyrics with party time melodies. Here they haven't even bothered with the socially conscious lyrics. In fact, they've barely bothered with lyrics at all. The rhymes on these songs are repetitive, lazy, thoughtless and wack.
3) Songs I'm Ambivalent About
My Style and They Don't Want Music both feature high-profile guests (Justin Timberlake and James Brown, respectively) who are wasted with one-note performances, in both cases just repeating the title phrase. However, neither song is outright bad. Bebot is very interesting. It's sung in Filipino and sounds very cool. Even your snobby world music friends might like it. I just wish the Peas didn't feel the need to shout out the word "Filipino" as much as possible; it nearly ruins the mood. Union continues Sting's fearlessness about farming his songs out for hip hop samples (I'll Be Missing You, Roxanne '97). I kind of admire his forward thinking, one just wishes the results were good. This time the sample is from An Englishman In New York, and all it does is make me want to listen to the original song again.
My Humps gives me the most inner turmoil. One part of me just wants to blindly embrace this catchy ode to Fergie's ass. But another part of me is deeply bothered. I'm not only bothered by the completely unsexy use of the term "humps" to describe butt cheeks (it's only slightly better than Sisqo's "dumps like a truck"), but also by the content. I don't want to become a prude as I get older, but as I teacher I know kids listen to this stuff. I don't want 10 year olds going around singing about their "lovely lady lumps."
Finally, there's Feel It, which just makes me go "eh" but does illustrate something very interesting about this album. Fergie is now the breakout star, which is not so surprising considering she was brought in to sex up their image. The surprise is that she has become artistically invaluable. Many of the songs on Monkey Business would simply sink without her interesting vocal contributions.
So what's the final verdict? Six songs out of fifteen that I like. And, to be generous, let's add three more from the ambivalent list. That brings us to 9 out of 15, or three-fifths, or 60%. That means:
Fave Song: Like That