Music: The Beginning by The Black Eyed Peas *
Back in May, The Black Eyed Peas played Dublin's O2. The show took me by surprise -- I was expecting a slick, engaging concert, but they delivered an exhilarating, high-octane performance to rival anything this newish venue has yet seen. It remains one of the gigs of the year.
It was with considerable interest that I approached this, their sixth album and brisk follow-up to last year's The E.N.D. How quickly my expectations were quashed. After just five songs, this shapes up to be this year's most uninspired album. By the time the final strains of it have abated, what you're left with is 53 minutes of music so pedestrian that it beggars belief.
Much of the album's problems can be levelled at the band's copious use of Auto-Tune. Commonly employed in the music business to correct vocals, it is widely used as a voice-manipulator in hip-hop circles. So common is its use now that Jay-Z was compelled to address the issue in his lacerating Grammy-winning song, Death of Auto-Tune.
Clearly will.i.am feels the technology is far from over. Virtually every song here features vocals manipulated to sound chipmunk-like. The effect is irksome when applied to a song or two; over the course of an entire album, it's disastrous.
Of course, this studio gadget can produce gold-dust -- Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak revels in Auto-Tune, while his stunning latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, uses it here and there. But then, West has been on an impressive run of form in recent years and his use of the device only serves to improve already strong compositions.
The problem for The Black Eyed Peas is the unavoidable fact that their songs are paper-thin to begin with. Album opener The Time (Dirty Bit) samples the Dirty Dancing theme, (I've Had) The Time of My Life, and someone among the numerous producers credited (including David Guetta and Rodney Jerkins) thought it would be a good idea to cut and paste the Auto-Tuned vocals. To say the track is a mess would be a considerable understatement.
Then there's the hideous Love You Long Time, which borrows the chords from Pete Townshend's Let My Love Open the Door -- it seems to take an eternity before this nursery rhyme-like abomination, with its inane, repetitious lyrics, has run its course. It's the track that makes you wonder: what has happened to will.i.am, a man who has proven time and again to be a pop alchemist to be reckoned with?
Elsewhere, the album's less creatively offensive songs lack sticking power. There's nothing like I Gotta Feeling here. And why is Fergie -- a singer with attitude and sass -- used so sparingly? She should be all over the album, but a chipmunked will.i.am thinks otherwise. Avoid.
Burn it: Fashion Beats