CD Review of The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) by The Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies)
Recommended if you like
The Pussycat Dolls, The Neptunes, Justin Timberlake
Label
Interscope
The Black Eyed Peas:
The E.N.D.
(Energy Never Dies)

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
t feels so long ago that it might as well be the story of another group, but once upon a time, Black Eyed Peas were a socially conscious hip-hop trio whose records were as smartly addictive as they were commercially ignored. Of course, being smart and socially conscious is nice and all, but being poor really sucks, so the Peas did what a number of other sales-starved backpacker rappers would do in the 21st century – they stopped worrying about doing anything other than moving asses.

To their credit, the original Peas – the absurdly monikered will.i.am, apl.de.ap, and Taboo – sold out well, recruiting former "Kids Incorporated" cast member and Wild Orchid singer Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson to add a little distaff charm to their new sound; perhaps more importantly, they fully embraced their change in direction, leaping headfirst into a brave new candy-colored world of music that either hid its agenda behind killer hooks ("Where Is the Love") or proudly wore its stupidity on its sleeve (the loathsome "My Lumps"). Post-makeover, the Peas have become the musical equivalent of Smirnoff’s malted beverages – fizzy, unbearably sweet, devoid of nutritional value – and, under the right circumstances, sort of delicious. Not at all coincidentally, they’ve also become one of the world’s most popular R&B/hip-hop acts.

Black Eyed Peas

The problem with getting stupid is that once you’ve done it – particularly as a dance act – it’s hard to do it again without wearing out your welcome. As Lou Bega and the Vengaboys could tell you, life after a brainless novelty hit can get sort of lonely; fortunately, the Black Eyed Peas (or probably more accurately, will.i.am) have a spectacular gift for fusing irresistibly sticky hooks with embarrassingly simple-minded (and instantly memorable) lyrics. Ninety percent of the time, a song as lethally brainless as "My Humps" spells instant doom for an artist’s long-term prospects – but lo and behold, it’s 2009, and the Peas are back with what appears to be the biggest hit of their career, a short bus anthem titled "Boom Boom Pow." Checkmate, nerds!

It really should be enough to make a person hate the Black Eyed Peas; problem is, despite the limitations of their music, they’re awfully good at what they do. They’re like the Jim Abbotts of the Top 40 – their achievements should be impossible, but damn if every time they walk up to the mound, they don’t pitch a strike. And their fifth outing, The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies), is another fast one, right down the middle of the plate.

Make no mistake, if you’re determined to hate the Peas, E.N.D. won’t do a thing to change your mind – but then, if you can listen to tracks like "Imma Be," "Electric City," and "Ring-a-Ling" without coming away at least begrudgingly impressed with their ability to make thinking seem like a terrible idea, you may very well be incapable of having fun. The beats are bright, the production is cutting edge, and the hooks are plentiful; barring some sort of seismic shift at radio in the next year or two, this album should be a rich source of hit material for months to come. Thankfully, there isn’t a "My Humps" in the bunch.

Actually, The E.N.D. is at its clumsiest when the Peas try to grow a brain – the world peace plea "One Tribe" is the second-worst track on the album, surpassed only by "Generation Now," an abominably bad attempt at something like hip commentary that includes lines like "MySpace and your space / Facebook is that new place" and "Google is my professor / Wikipedia checker." The album is far better when it sticks to the dance floor; tracks like the club-friendly "Out of My Head" and the mid ‘80s Madonna pastiche "Meet Me Halfway" do such a fine job of highlighting the group’s, um, artistic strengths that it’s hard not to wonder why they bothered trying to make actual statements. Either song could easily have been clipped, especially considering The E.N.D.’s mammoth 15-track, 66-minute running time. Of course, it’s foolish to complain about too much of a good thing – too much sickly sweet fizz, on the other hand, is liable to make a person sick. Unless you’ve built up a superhuman tolerance for the stuff, you may want to buy the singles as they turn into inescapable hits – or cherry-pick the best tracks from your favorite digital retailer.

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