Ever since Andre 3000 released The Love Below, it seems that every creative hip-hop artist out there wants to try to make an album with as little rapping as possible. This isn’t really anything new, as Rhyme Syndicate members Ice-T and Everlast reinvented themselves as Body Count and Whitey Ford, respectively. Even Q-Tip – who arguably laid the blueprint for artists like Andre 3000, Pharrell, or will.i.am – gave it go with his shelved Kamaal The Abstract release. But these things are largely hit or miss – Pharrell did it well with N.E.R.D, but not so well with In My Mind. The same can be said for Andre 3000, who made beautiful music with The Love Below, while Pharoahe Monch struggled to find his identity on Desire. Black Eyed Peas’ frontman, will.i.am is next to join the fray, with Songs About Girls.
Will has described the record as a “concept album” about a seven-year relationship gone awry thanks to infidelity. While this sounds strangely similar to the concept behind Andre 3000′s The Love Below, Will’s version seems to be a much more loose-knit narrative; one that the audience likely won’t care too much to put together. Thanks to his massive commercial success with the Black Eyed Peas, Will treads the line between creative genius and dumbed-down pop music on Songs About Girls, without totally failing, nor totally succeeding, in either genre.
The album opens up with “Over”, which finds a back-peddling Will attempting to patch up a broken relationship, with catchy hooks, meaty guitar licks, and sampled 60′s folk. “Heartbreaker” follows, a danceable-albeit-apologetic track that finds him exercising his vocal chops, sans raps. He seems to come off best when he’s begging for forgiveness, as again on the Caribbean flavored “One More Chance”, he interlaces simplistic rhymes with an otherwise memorable breakdown: “(This around) I promise baby, I’m a change it / I’ll remix it, no more same shit.”
The same could be said for Will’s pair of slow jams, that sneak their way on to the record, either of which could be late night radio favorites on your local pop station. Pollow Da Don chimes in to produce both “Ain’t It Pretty” and “She’s A Star”, both of which find will.i.am getting his Usher on. Both sound like very obviously written by “Umbrella” ghost-writer, Terius “The-Dream” Nashthese, and surprisingly, they are much more seductive than anything out of 50 Cent’s candy shop or amusement park.
It’s evident that Will has a rich musical palette at his disposal, as he takes from several different genres to create the songs heard on Girls – for better or for worse. Heavy 80′s new wave influence seeps into the record – as on “Get Your Money”, a pro-stripper anthem that not-so-subtly borrows from Naked Eyes’s “Promises, Promises”. “Invisible” is a strange blend of beaten-to-death Prince drums and acoustic guitars, with an end result that just kind of plods along. The same can be said for the Jackson 5-jacked baseline of “Fantastic”, which again, is just kind of… there. “Fly Girl” is another filler joint, sounding more like Behind The Front-era Black Eyed Peas, as Will follows in Q-Tip’s footprints with a familiar flow.
And that is probably the main thing that keeps Songs About Girls from being truly great (besides the fact that this is an incredibly *soft* LP). While one could argue over Will’s “influences” versus “rip offs”, there’s a huge element of “been there, done that” that rears it’s head on this album. Other faults include the downright terrible “Donkey Show”, which actually features a groan-inducing Snoop Dogg, re-spitting bars from “Nuthin’ But A G Thang”, but over a house track! (Yawn). The album ends with the curiously misplaced “S.O.S.”, where Will drops knowledge (take that however you like) about the dangers of global warming. Will’s concern is genuine, but some hokey facts help him lose credibility; and also, we thought this was Songs About Girls.
All in all, despite the shortcomings found on will.i.am’s solo debut, it still finds merit from time to time, and truthfully, packs much more substance than the last couple of Black Eyed Peas albums, yet doesn’t have the hits of the Fergie record. This might not exactly be the Songs For Heads record we were foolishly hoping for, but at the same time, it’s also not plastic enough for the Girls it’s about, either. – Pizzo
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