The Good: Moments of vocals, "Big Girls Don't Cry," Some tunes have a decent hook.
The Bad: It's pretty insipid pop, Lyrics, Instrumentals, "Assembled" sound, Most vocals, Overproduced
The Basics: On her debut album, Fergie presents herself as a poor copy of other artists, falling into many of the worst pop music mistakes.
Perennial Star Trek fan favorite George Takei amuses virtually every convention audience he has by at least once per public appearance delivering his trademark, "Oh my" line. It's enough to bring a smile to virtually any geek's face and I'll admit sometimes it's the high point of a convention for me. Takei knows how to entertain. But that sentiment, that truly great "Oh my!" is best reserved for something truly shocking, either in its grandeur or in its horrific revelation. When I first finished listening to The Dutchess (sic) (or Fergie As The Dutchess as the front cover says), I popped the disc out of my player and let out a Takei quality "Oh my!"
The debut album of Fergie, lone female voice of The Black-Eyed Peas, The Dutchess (which I'm not going to continue noting with 'sic,' the misspelling is apparently intentional) is a pretty spectacular pop music disaster. With fourteen tracks clocking in at exactly fifty-eight minutes, this is a classic argument against artists from groups going solo. And perhaps my standards were set too high, but having enjoyed Monkey Business and Fergie's work with the Black-Eyed Peas, I came to The Dutchess expecting to at least enjoy the outing.
I did not.
My first clue ought to have been the insipid first single, "London Bridge." For those who have not heard this less-than-brilliant dance track, the refrain is, "How come every time you come around / My London, London bridge want to go down, like / London, London, London / Want to go down like / London, London, London / Be goin down like . . ." ("London Bridge"). Note to writers Stacy Ferguson (Fergie), J. Jones, S. Garrett, and M. Harnett: When you write an analogy, it helps to compare something to something else, comparing London bridge to itself does not make an analogy. And yes, as someone blissfully ignorant to what a hot young artist's "London Bridge" might be, this song is just plain drecht. And seriously, how many people does it take to write this garbage?!
On the album, the track is concluded by several seconds of people speaking over the lines trying to figure out how they are going to pronounce it. This is mind-blowingly pointless and nowhere near musical.
To continue, The Dutchess is a weird combination of songs that have an overall 1980's feeling to them. Songs like "All That I Got (The Make Up Song)" and " " sound like they could be lost Expose tracks. And while Gwen Stefani's The Sweet Escape effectively managed to recreate a late-'80's pop sound and make it sound fresh, Fergie's songs like "Pedestal" and "Voodoo Doll" merely sound like derivative attempts at recreating Stefani's sound. And, unfortunately for Fergie, "Voodoo Doll" sounds more like Stefani's solo debut which was also riddled with freshman mistakes. "Here I Come" sounds like a pretty generic assemblage of lines, riffs and basslines that come together to mean almost nothing. It's a lot of sound, with little meaning and that track especially has an assembled quality.
But even more than sounding like other artists who have recently gone solo and seeming to attempt to recapture the same musical era - which to be fair is the music of both Fergie and Stefani's childhood - The Dutchess does not represent a serious attempt to go solo. Fergie does not write a single song on her own on this album. Instead, half the songs are co-written with her Black-Eyed Peas bandmate will.i.am (Will Adams). As well, Fergie falls into the annoying trap so many current artists and performers fall into with including a bevy of guest performers on her album. Will.i.am is featured on three songs and Ludacris, John Legend and Rita Marley and The I-Threes join her on one track each. It's hardly an expression of ability, artistry or talent when one cannot hold their own on their own debut solo album. But with six of the fourteen tracks being supported by others, the album has the feeling that it needs others to prop it up, making Fergie's solo career seem desperate from the outset.
And it's a shame that she chose to go the road most commonly traveled. Tracks like "Velvet" indicate that she has a singing voice that is worthy of being heard. The mellow, bluesy track is almost enough to forgive her for the nasal, screeching vocals on "Losing My Ground." The point here is that Fergie clearly has some talent, though she seems determined to mortgage it for the trappings of popularity. And on the longer notes of "Losing My Ground," Fergie sounds like she is straining within her natural register, as if someone pulled her leg out from under her while she was singing and she just grabbed onto the microphone and tried to continue. Producers Rob Boldt and Ron Fair should be fired for letting that one get on the album.
The standout song on the album is "Big Girls Don't Cry" and it's pretty clear why the song is doing so well on the charts. With its use of guitars, bass, keyboards and drums it is pretty much the archetypal pop song as far as sound goes. It sounds like it should be a big hit, like the type track Madonna used to put out. It expresses something with its heartfelt refrain of "I hope you know / That this has nothing to do with you / It's personal / Myself and I / We got some straightening out to do" ("Big Girls Don't Cry"). And on it, Fergie reveals she can sing.
But it's one track (two that illustrate she has a decent voice) among twelve others. The song comes late in the album, long after the listener is sickened by the overproduction - where her voice is obscured or altered by production elements - and lame lyrics. And the self-promotion. Not since Eminem burst onto the scene making hit songs about what it was like to be Eminem, can I recall an artist singing so much about themselves. Fergie's first track on The Dutchess is "Fergalicious" which seems to suggest that she is something to be consumed and the opening to "London Bridge" reintroduces her as someone who should be treated better than you, the listener to her music. And in "Glamorous," she sends the mixed message of how she's "keepin' it real," by going to Taco Bell, but that if you don't have money, you should go on home. She acknowledges that her fans got her her wealth, but then spends the song bragging about flying first class, drinking champagne and no longer having to drive a crappy car. In short, outside selling herself as a product, she does not seem to have anything genuine to say.
What's worse is that when she's not singing about herself, she sings about . . . her shoes. On "Mary Jane Shoes," she simply repeats "Whoa my Mary Janes" over and over again as a refrain and it is tired and pretty lame. Some people may be able to pull off a song about their shoes, but Fergie doesn't do it here.
Added to the pretty dull lyrics, the music is almost universally bad. When the Casio keyboard style sound opened up the second single, "Clumsy," my thoughts went immediately to the Bloodhound Gang's song "The Lapdance Is Always Better When The Stripper Is Crying" (from their album Hooray For Boobies). But where Bloodhound Gang effectively creates a hilarious and gross satire, Fergie seems to present the track as a serious musical endeavor. That just leaves the listener sad.
And beyond that, the album is populated with heavy keyboards and basslines with the clear intent being to get the listener to move. This is a dance-pop album and it falls into many of the worst trappings of that, not genuinely creating anything musically original. Usually, I criticize artists for not performing any instruments on albums they write, but on The Dutchess, it's not like Fergie has many opportunities. Most of the songs are programmed as opposed to performed on instruments.
This is pure pop and it's mostly drivel.
The best track is easily "Big Girls Don't Cry," there are no others that are genuinely worth your time, but the worst is probably "Here I Come" which could have been made by a monkey with a sampling machine. Then again, "Clumsy" is pretty bad too.
For other female artists, be sure to check out my reviews of:
I Want You (single) - Sophie B. Hawkins
Icon - Imogen Heap and Frou Frou
Everybody - Ingrid Michaelson
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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