One sad fact of today’s music industry is that when it comes down to record sales, it’s 90% imaging, 10% talent. Just ask the Black Eyed Peas, who struggled to break into the mainstream with their first two solid releases, Behind The Front and Bridging The Gap. It wasn’t until the addition of Fergie (and an overall watering down of their sound) that the group was able to catapult themselves into the hearts of America with subsequent releases, Elephunk and Monkey Business. Sonically, it can be argued that the Peas were doing just fine without the girl, but suddenly the addition of a leggy, rapping blonde into the group suddenly seemed a lot more interesting to teeny-boppers and single moms everywhere, making the group into household names.
So naturally, BEP’s main selling point would be given the chance to release her own solo album, and thus, Fergie’s The Dutchess was born. But first, a little history. Fergie might seem like some kind of cool, edgy hip-hop chick from L.A, but in essence she’s just someone who has made a career off her marketable beauty. Her career began as a child actor on Kids Incorporated, and then as she grew older, she became the lead singer behind a female pop vocal group called Wild Orchid, who attempted to make big dance tunes in the tradition of Madonna’s “Vogue”. This was around the same time Will.I.Am was making hip-hop records as the Atban Klan – which wasn’t a far cry from what he’s still doing today. Fergie, on the other hand, seems to be someone obsessed with stardom, adapting to whatever the “now sound” is, so she can be on T.V.
Complete lack of street credibility and harsh disses aside, Fergie-Ferg has a few undeniable club joints on here, coming in the form of the album’s first two singles. “London Bridge” packs one of the most raw, commercial hip-hop beats of the year (think ’92 Show and A.G.), slightly polished up for Fergie’s risque raps and addictively cool delivery. Kudos are also in order for “Fergalicious”, a Will.I.Am produced homage to 80′s chick rap, in the tradition of JJ Fad and Salt ‘N Pepa – a vast improvement over last year’s “My Humps”. Later on “Here I Come”, Will fully utilizes her multiple styles, meshing her sung vocals and raps, with The Temptations’ sample of the same name.
Will, as a matter of fact, saves this album from being the complete mess that some of BEP’s recent releases were, as he is coming into his own as a producer. “Clumsy” begins with an incredibly dope beat – maybe better suited for De La Soul – but Ferg does her best to mesh with it, singing about (wait for it) falling in love. Not exactly a shocker, but Ferg’s got a certified head-nodder here. The smoothed out “All That I Got” allows the girl to really exercise her vocal chops, exposing some of her insecurities in the process, asking her mate (here played by Will) if he would stick with her if she got fat and ditched her dye job.
But unfortunately, these insecurities rear their ugly head later in the album, with constant style shifting and tiresome interpolations, giving the album an overall sense of schizophrenia. While The Dutchess has its share of standout moments (taking this completely for what it is, a pop record), it’s also littered with faults. After “London Bridge” closes, Fergie moves on to the unbearable “Pedestal”, which interpolates the original “London Bridge” playground song, where she actually has the nerve to attack her critics, as if she can do no wrong (The Beatles never did this, Ferg). The Ludacris featured, Will.I.Am produced “Glamorous” borrows heavy influence from Prince’s “I Would Die For You” and Shelia E’s “The Glamorous Life”, and it almost works, if it weren’t for the sad fact that this is actually a scrapped remix to Gwen Stefani’s “Luxurious”. Gwen’s original version was leaked to deejays a year ago, with the same beat and Luda rap in tact. Ladies and gentlemen, witness the music industry in action!
When Fergie isn’t being a rapper, she is attempting to make songs for every other music market – just in case the hip-hop thing doesn’t work. She puts her blonde dreads and Rastafarian accent on a pair of reggae joints, first with “Voodoo Doll”, and following with the piss-poor (heh) lift of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, on “Mary Jane Shoes” (with a shoe-horned appearance from Rita Marley). The adult contemporary pop audience is not forgotten either, as she smooth things out for that crowd with both “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Finally” – with pianos by John Legend! Are we supposed to take her seriously now?
Not at all. Taking this album seriously will only upset you. Despite it’s manufactured quality, if you look at it for what it is, it’s not half bad. This fact is especially surprising, given her shoddy track record thus far. Ferg gets a temporary pass for the album’s handful of listenable and club-rockable joints, but equally succeed’s at pissing off the esteemed critics in the same breath.
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