It’s quite possible will.i.am’s cameo in the new Wolverine movie rubbed off on him — badly. After all, throughout his new record, he seems to think he’s a superhero, waging war on the very people who brought him success. Of course, we’re talking about the latest Black Eyed Peas effort, The E.N.D., short for The Energy Never Dies, despite sounding like a subtle resignation. Sadly, that’s not the case here.
The opening of this record is absolute crass: “Everything around you is changing. Nothing stays the same. This version of myself is not permanent. Tomorrow I will be different. The energy never dies.” Statements like this should exist only in movie trailers, and belong to the likes of Don LaFontaine (rest in peace). It’s self righteous, it’s pompous, yet it’s the “complex” metaphor behind this mish-mash record. A record that will.i.am insists is, “a diary of music that at any given time, depending on the inspiration, you can add to it. I’m trying to break away from the concept of an album. What is an album when you put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs? That’s not an album. There is no album anymore.”
Rest assured, will.i.am, that the album does still exist, and that with The E.N.D., he has produced a real contender for worst album of 2009. The scariest thing is that the Black Eyed Peas are the most successful recording artists in the modern era, having sold 15 million records since 2003. This is all conjecture, for every member of this band knows they have made a dumb, convoluted record in search of commercial results. And, in some ways, they have succeeded.
Lead single “Boom Boom Pow”, is, for its faults, an absolutely genius piece of production from the main man himself, and deserves its chart domination. The “band” has been narrowed down to a talented guy behind the mixing board, a girl with pipes and looks and two glorified back-up singers. For their sins, Taboo and apl.de.ap are talented in their own distinct ways, but have probably been deemed ‘unmarketable.’ And to think, they were founding members, pulling out the original debut Behind The Front, aping A Tribe Called Quest and producing real hip hop music. “Boom Boom Pow”’s immediate successor, “Rock That Body”, comes over all Daft Punk, a surprisingly accurate imitation that’s really shocking. The positives end here, however.
In a twist of fate, the Peas no longer seem content making millions from mostly inoffensive pop records, and have decided to reinvent themselves. This entails creating a new genre (“electric static funk”) and wearing weird outfits. Even Fergie manages to look ridiculous in her S&M claws. The songs follow suit, no pun intended.
“Meet Me Halfway” is an example of art imitating song title, never really knowing where it is going, with an overpowering bass clap, only vanquished by Fergie’s “sophisticated” voice. Somehow, will.i.am works in Nick Zinner’s guitar from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”. This is a mish-mash mess, and with a little less crazy experimentation, something could have been salvaged, but naturally, it falls in under its own weight. They threw everything into this track, and with no quality control.
Continuing to disappoint, “Imma Be” is just a damn insult to hip hop music. With so many call-outs and samples, the song tumbles progressively down into the lower-echelons of recorded music, forcing three different songs into one. Keys and tempos change beyond logical explanation. The four minutes is a struggle, to say the least. “I Gotta Feeling” is chart baiting. “Now Generation” is a lesson in shameless product placement (“Check me on that iChat/I’m all about that http/Europe PC on the net…/Myspace, and your space/Facebook is that new place/Google is my professor/Wikipedia check ‘em.”). Perhaps music is the next frontier to be conquered by advertising? Thanks, guys.
The metaphor behind this album is its true end. The idea of “creating” a living, breathing organism has essentially removed any sense of cohesion here, and in the end, some of these directions should have been explored in detail. Collectively, as an album that is, The E.N.D. is overlong, overhyped and certainly going to outlive its welcome. Then again, it’s very likely the whole mess will eat up the charts with fans hailing it a masterpiece. C’est la vie.