I don't often censor myself on this blog but I have resisted mentioning my Fergie admiration out of fear of public ridicule. However, I think the time has come to out myself. Before you start sharpening your knives - hear me out. I used to be one of you poor, misguided Dutchess haters. In fact, I believe I nominated Fergie as the worst pop star of all time for an online poll and described her solo album as "repugnant filth" the first time I heard it in late 2006.
I simply wasn't ready to embrace Fergie's musical genius but that started to change in early 2007 when Alanis Morissette spoofed "My Humps". I was shocked by the blatant disrespect Alanis showed the track. It might be utter rubbish in her eyes but "My Humps" will be remembered 20 years from now - unlike anything that horse faced bitch has released this decade. As a sucker for unusual promotion, my sympathy for Fergie only grew when she revealed having conversations with a washing basket under the influence of crystal meth. With a newly formed, positive opinion of the great woman, I was finally able to listen to her music with objectivity and was amazed by the brilliance of "Glamorous" and "Big Girls Don't Cry". The time had come to give "The Dutchess" a second chance and it has been a guilty pleasure of mine all year. Uneven and often downright embarrassing, "The Dutchess" is a pop trash classic in waiting. However, that's not why I felt compelled to write this post. The more I listen to Fergie's album, the stronger my conviction becomes that Fergie is the voice of our generation. There have been many better albums released this year but none that captures the zeitgeist as eerily as "The Dutchess". Evidence is provided below:
I be up in the gym just working on my fitness
He's my witness!
I put your boy on rock, rock
And they be lining down the block just to watch what I got
In 200 years time when historians research the social mores of the early 21st century, I hope they stumble upon a copy of "Fergalicious" in order to fully understand the current phenomenon of shameless self-promotion. Never before in recorded history have people shared so much of themselves publicly - be it on Myspace, Facebook, Youtube or Blogger. I see "Fergalicious" as the musical equivalent of a Gaydar profile. Fergie rambles on about her self-proclaimed hotness in barely comprehensible English all the while lying through her teeth. The truth of Fergie's boasts are irrelevant, what matters is the image she puts forward - just like all those "straight acting, athletic" guys on Gaydar. Deep down we know they are probably mordibly obese, limp wristed queens but we like to think there's a hunk sitting behind the computer. We all lie but Fergie has turned baseless self-promotion into an artform!
A girl like me don't stay single for long
The fifth single from "The Dutchess" is pure Fergie. A completely pointless yet insanely catchy groove built around a variety of samples. You could argue that "Clumsy" represents everything that's wrong with music today. It's not a song so much as a collection of sounds thrown together with clinical precision in a recording studio. From the spoken vocal to the static beats and crazed sampling, "Clumsy" is a product of its time - and I'm ok with that.
All That I Got (The Make Up Song)
Would you love me
If I didn't work out
Or I didn't change my natural hair
Just when you think "The Dutchess" couldn't get any more insightful, Fergie extends her lyrical genius to cover topics like hair care and make-up. "All That I Got" plays like the soundtrack to a trashy magazine with its exploration of body image and emotional insecurity. The song itself is a charming groove that is only slightly ruined by an unnecessary guest rapper. It's nice to actually hear Fergie use her powerful pipes and the production less excessive than usual. Fergie cops a lot of criticism for the perceived superficiality of her work. I disagree, Fergie's world view is limited to looking hot, finding a man and being successful but how does that differ from the rest of Generation Y?
I'm such a lady but I'm dancin' like a ho
The world could really do without Fergie's ode to her engorged clit - or so I thought until I was dragged to a suburban disco by a friend's 17 year old sister. As soon as "London Bridge" hit the turntable, flocks of hotpant wearing tarts descended on the dancefloor screaming "It's my song!" before making obscene hand gestures between their legs and dancing like cheap prostitutes. The point I'm trying to make is that you probably need to be a teenager to get "London Bridge" or at least an avid pole dancer. Since that spiritual experience, my love for Fergie's stunning debut single has grown in leaps and bounds. "London Bridge" is a hot mess complete with rubbish lyrics, bad sampling and more false advertising about Fergie's irresistible hotness. A work of demented genius.
I've paid my dues
I'm a seasoned dame
So why you gotta throw salt in my game?
"Pedestal" is a direct response to the constant shit Fergie cops in the media. For whatever reason, the Dutchess is the pop diva bloggers and music journalists love to hate - criticising her music, rumoured botox addiction and weak bladder. This song is one long "fuck you" to all her haters. As she states in the revealing lyrics, Fergie has put in the hard yards. First as a child star in America and then as a member of the forgotten girlband, Wild Orchid. Unlike many of her contemporaries Fergie wasn't served her career on a silver platter and I respect that. "Pedestal" is compelling listening, if only for the legendary rhyming couplet "I work around the clock, so fill your mouth up with a sock"!
This body's a temple of doom
"The Dutchess" really is a remarkable portrait of 21st century life. With Amy Winehouse and Britney destructing before our very eyes, Fergie's revelation of having overcome a crystal meth habit seems almost quaint in comparison. "Voodoo Doll" tackles Fergie's drug habit, making it one of the most personal tracks on the record. I'm particularly impressed with the lyrics - usually not one of Fergie's strongest points. This is as thought provoking and intelligent as any song I've heard about drug addiction. The production is also first class. The horns that come in at the end are a fantastic touch.
I'm no queen, I'm no machine
I still go to Taco Bell
Drive-through raw as hell
"Glamorous" is undoubtedly one of the year's finest pop songs. I was captivated by Fergie's gorgeous mid-tempo groove from the first listen and I still love every second of it. A radical departure in style, "Glamorous" is more traditional in structure and sound than most of "The Dutchess". Even the obligatory rent-a-rapper can't diminish the brilliance of this pop gem. "Glamorous" reflects on Fergie's life in the fast lane and documents her stunning achievements and massive success. For all the jibes about Fergie's perceived superficiality, "The Dutchess" is a very personal album.
Here I Come
Money don't change me
So hate if you gotta gotta
Cause I got a lot-a, lot-a
Listen to this awe-inspiringly awful pseudo cover of The Temptations' "Get Ready" at your own risk! The lack of respect shown to the original is really quite impressive. Fergie takes a much loved Motown classic, tears it inside out and comes up with a fabulously awful anthem, complete with lyrics about her humps and a dodgy rap. This is utter crap but I can't get enough of it. A guilty pleasure in the truest sense!
Sink into me, I feel so warm
This song is clearly about Fergie's pussy. I'd rather not think about her "crumblin' walls".
Big Girls Don't Cry
Fairytales don't always have a happy ending do they?
And I foresee the dark ahead if I stay
The 4th single released from "The Dutchess" towers above everything else on the album, perhaps with the exception of "Glamorous". In my opinion "Big Girls Don't Cry" is the finest ballad of the year and the average music fan seems to agree as evidenced by the song's massive 9 week stretch at #1 in Australia. Reviews haven't been as kind, with many critics dismissing "Big Girls Don't Cry" as an empty exercise in false sentiment. A kind of "Self-Reflection For Dummies", if you will. Well, I'm not buying into that kind of cynicism. I totally identify with Fergie's mantra about growing up and finally taking responsibility and I admire the way "Big Girls Don't Cry" expertly explores the very modern phenomenon of "kidulthood" and the sense inertia that plagues Generation Y. The song also stands out as the most traditional offering on "The Dutchess". There are no samples, no guest rappers or quirky hooks. The emphasis is placed squarely on the lyrics and Fergie's hugely underrated voice. A modern classic.
Mary Jane Shoes
When I wear my Mary Jane Shoes
I can escape from the blues
The whole world seems a little bit brighter, brighter
When I think of reggae music, Bob Marley's famous protest songs come to mind. Fergie, on the other hand, uses the genre to extol the virtues of her favourite pair of shoes. That, my friends, is the difference between 1967 and 2007 in a nutshell. The amazing thing about "Mary Jane Shoes" isn't the questionable subject matter but the fact that the song works - incredibly well. This reggae jam would be really quite outstanding if it wasn't ruined by a completely unnecessary 30 second outro of guitar static. A missed opportunity for a very memorable single.
Losing My Ground
I woke up short of breath, but still I've got a long day ahead of me
"Losing My Ground" is a fairly forgettable album track that straddles the line between R'n'B and rock without committing to either genre. The lyrics explore the familiar theme of feeling lost and overwhelmed by life but it lacks the punch of Fergie's other reflective moments. Inoffensive but slightly boring.
Ever since I was a baby girl I had a dream
Cinderella theme, crazy as it seems
Fergie's collaboration with John Legend is a surprisingly sweet piano ballad. Think of this as the overwrought but strangely endearing sister of "Big Girls Don't Cry". The Dutchess puts in another fine vocal performance but the lyrics read like a badly written Hallmark card... or the random musings of a 21st century "it" girl. However, after the endless onslaught of samples and studio trickery, the pared back sound of "Finally" comes as something of a relief.
Get Your Hands Up (Bonus Track)
This song is credited to Fergie featuring The Black Eyed Peas. Surely that makes it a Black Eyed Peas track? In any case, it sure as hell sounds like one to me. If I wanted to hear will.i.am rap I'd fork out the cash for his shit solo album. No thanks.
Wake Up (Bonus Track)
The second bonus track finds Fergie in rock diva mode and the result is surprisingly convincing. "Wake Up" wouldn't sound out of place on a No Doubt album. This is a definitely a genre that Fergie needs to re-visit in the future. Worth a listen.
Maybe We Can Take A Ride (Hidden Track)
I hate these hidden tracks. It's annoying to listen to 30 seconds of dead air - particularly when you're greeted with a song as inane and pointless as "Maybe We Can Take A Ride". Fergie basically repeats the song title over an annoying saxophone line. Skip this shit.
"The Dutchess" is widely uneven dog's breakfast of an album. It dabbles in too many genres and, more often than not, is hampered by dodgy lyrics and excessive production. However, "The Dutchess" is so of its time that it almost defies criticism. If I had to pick one album to throw into a time capsule to represent the musical taste and social mores of 2007 this would be it. For better or worse.