Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Quick Devolution Of An Album With Much Potential For The Future

The Good: Excellent sound, Surprisingly diverse sound, Mostly decent lyrics, Generally good balance between members
The Bad: Surrenders to the marketing stereotypes of rap music
The Basics: With fifteen tracks, The Black Eyed Peas album Monkey Business is a diverse listening experience that is mostly very enjoyable.

There is a significant gap between the time it took the Bee-Gees and Michael Jackson to create albums that were able to chart four or more singles in the U.S. In the UK, the trend was continued with Oasis's Definitely Maybe (reviewed here!), but in the U.S., it's a near-impossibility to score four singles of an album and have them get decent airplay or chart position. Britney Spears's debut is a soft example (the fourth single did not do great, though it kept her in the public imagination until "Oops I Did It Again" was released), Matchbox 20 (and Matchbox Twenty) and Destiny's Child are pretty much the only two that come to mind that were successful with four singles off an album in the mainstream pop-rock charts. Then came The Black Eyes Peas who nailed the charts with "Where's The Love" and when their album Monkey Business was released, they managed to chart "Pump It," "Don't Phunk With My Heart," "Don't Lie," and "My Hump" on the top 40. It was a respectable outing and there was enough in those four singles to encourage me to give the album a spin.

Monkey Business defied my immediate expectations when I popped the album in. My thought was that it was likely to be a rap or hip-hop album. In all honesty, this album is a very pleasant surprise in that regard. The Black Eyed Peas have a diverse sound that does from dance and club to flat out pop to rap to hip-hop to moments of soul and even a song that has a folk quality to it. The Black Eyed Peas, with their social conscience and musical diversity (though definitely slanted toward the dance/hip-hop spectrum), have more in common with Deee-Lite than Outkast. In that regard, the album was quite a surprise.

This makes me want to rush to the negative aspect of the album. I have been looking for a decent rap album for some time (Outkast's The Love Below/Speakerboxxx, reviewed here, represented the best chance in a long time) but have never found one that does not at some point simply disappoint by presenting views that are either sexist, racist, or just plain dumb and self-promotional. Have you ever noticed how largely what rap artists sing about is themselves (listen to the first single Eminem has put off any of his albums, they are all about Eminem rapping!)? Within moments of putting Monkey Business in, I had removed it from any classification of "rap album." It's not. It's so much more pop-funk than rap. Thus, it was a tremendous disappointment when the devolves into flat out rap on "Disco Club" and "Ba Bump." And rap is not inherently bad (hence my desire to find a perfect rap album) but the Black Eyed Peas continue the worst embodiments of rap with the tracks including "n*gga" and ridiculously sexist language: "If the girl's ugly, then get drunk ("Ba Bump")."

That said, the album is otherwise is remarkably well-concieved and considerate. "Don't Phunk With My Heart" asks about the nature of relationships, desperately wondering "If let you take me home, will you still be in love with me?" The narrator wants to know if "love" is a ploy and I think it's a very cool track. "Don't Lie" cries out for honest in relationships and the album closes with "Unity," a Sting-featured track that is a recasting of "Where's The Love," asking for the people of the world to come together. This is generally positive stuff.

I don't know that I'm a fan of Jack Johnson (who sounds suspiciously like John Mayer) but the track "Gone Going," which features sampling (called an interpolation here because it's such a large chunk used for the refrain) of Jack Johnson's "Gone." It's fabulous, a song telling a story and railing against materialism. It's sharp, beautifully presented and I cannot believe it was not released as a single. When the Black Eyed Peas release a Best of album, that's a must have track.

How can an album with such tight lyrics and such desire for love of all humanity devolve into the simple "score with whatever moves" concept of "Disco Club?" I think "My Humps" is a delightful tease, the power of female sexuality, but the flat rap songs on Monkey Business are just disappointing.

One of the aspects of Monkey Business that might come as a surprise to those who are only familiar with the Black Eyed Peas from the radio is how the album is not dominated by Fergie. There is a great balance between the vocals of Fergie,, and Taboo. Just like the diversity of the sound on Monkey Business, there is great diversity of vocals that makes the album a pleasant listening experience that does not get stale over many listenings.

Finally, I would like to say that the Black Eyed Peas are clever in avoiding one rap conceit which is advertising all of their guest vocals. Justin Timberlake, James Brown and Dante Santiago without appearing on the tracklisting. I think that's cool; too often bands try to sell their albums simply using crossover appeal.

Ultimately Monkey Business is a fairly solid album qualitatively. It's a fun listen, with great flow between songs. In fact one of the most hypnotic aspects of Monkey Business is the way songs flow from one into the other. And most of the album is filled with positive lyrics and unobjectionable lyrics. It's music that energizes and occasionally makes one think.

It's close, but not perfect. But it's Definitely worth a listen. The album is front loaded with the four released singles in the first five tracks, but the album continues into other distinct and likable tracks. The best track is "Gone Going" the worst is the simplistic and disappointing "Ba Bump."

For other music reviews, you might enjoy:
Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation - The B-52’s
Two Suns (Deluxe) – Bat For Lashes
Cex Cells - Blaqk Audio


Check out how this album stacks up against other musical works I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the works are organized best to worst.

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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