Halfway through "The E.N.D." I was ready to declare it the best pop album of 2009, such is the brilliance of tracks like "I Gotta Feeling", "Alive" and "Rock That Body". Unfortunately, the albums loses a bit of momentum and the second half is something of a letdown in comparison. That doesn't change the fact that "The E.N.D." is an extraordinarily fun album. This is one of those rare discs that you could spin at a party and be guaranteed to please the vast majority of people in the room. The move towards electro and dance is inspired and no act in modern music bridges the gap between hip hop and pop better than the Black Eyed Peas.
Given their usually obtuse lyrics about Fergie's humps and endless sex appeal, it comes as something of a surprise that the band has a theme this time around. I guess you could even call "The E.N.D." a concept album of sorts. In the liner notes will.i.am writes eloquently about the death of record stores and the demise of music in a physical form - and this collection of tunes deals with what comes next. It's all about the future of music and that's reflected in the robotic beats, computerised voice effects and fearless blending of genres. There's even a song about Facebook and Myspace! The result is a fresh and exciting album that sometimes buckles under the weight of its own epic scale. Coming in at 25 tracks (if you buy the Deluxe Edition and I highly recommend you do), "The E.N.D." is almost overwhelming. However, in the days of individual track downloading and homemade playlists, it's easy to come up with a version to suit almost everyone and, to be honest, I think that's the whole point of "The E.N.D." - to celebrate the digital world and all the new opportunities it brings.
Here's my track by track review:
Boom Boom Pow - 8/10
This sets the tone of the album perfectly with its robotic voice effects and futuristic beats. However, it's not representative of the rest of the songs at all. "Boom Boom Pow" is the only track that has been deconstructed to such a devastating extent. I know a lot of people despise "Boom Boom Pow" but I think it's clever, post modern and ridiculously catchy despite (or perhaps because of) its minimalist approach. That being said, I couldn't cope with a whole album of this shit without falling into some kind of hypnotic trance. Thankfully the Peas realise this and are smart enough not to use the same trick twice.
Rock That Body - 8.5/10
French DJ David Guetta joins will.i.am for production duties on this epic dance track and the result is surprisingly brilliant. In fact, you could be forgiven for mistaking "Rock That Body" for a Daft Punk song. That's not to say it's a rip off. The mash of electronic and trance elements has been done before but not within the context of urban music. I particularly love the sample of Lynn Collins' disco classic "Think (About It)" and can see this being a club smash.
Meet Me Halfway - 10/10
This is my equal favourite song on "The E.N.D." and I'm incredibly bitter that it's been wasted as one of three pre-album promotional singles along with "Imma Be" and "Alive". It's such a relief to have Fergie take over vocal duties after remaining very much in the background for the first two tracks. In fact, the holy Queen of urban pop takes a backseat for most of the album. You can still hear old methhead's stunning vocals on almost every track but she doesn't rule the microphone to the extent she has on past albums - a clear ploy to distinguish "The E.N.D." from "The Dutchess", which (let's face it) featured almost exactly the same line-up of producers and songwriters. It works in places but there's no denying the album lifts every time we hear that fergalicious voice and "Meet Me Halfway" is a perfect example. This glorious synth drenched, pure pop anthem channels Madonna and Stacey Q at the height of their mid-80s fabulousness. I really hope Fergie's next solo album sounds a little something like this.
Imma Be - 3/10
I can appreciate the skill displayed on this track. The production is slick and the rhymes are tight but I'm too gay, too old and way too white to sing along to lyrics like "Y'all niggers wanna talk shit"!
I Gotta Feeling - 10/10
David Guetta has been one of the world's hottest DJs for years but if "I Gotta Feeling" is anywhere near as huge as I think it's going to be, it's only a matter of time before he's an A-list producer as well. The second single from "The E.N.D." is quite simply the year's best party anthem. This is the perfect soundtrack for a big night out. "I Gotta Feeling" captures the moment of standing in front of the mirror on a Saturday night, flattening your asymmetrical haircut or undertaking some last minute manscaping. It's about the excitement of what's to come and the potential the night holds. This is uplifting, catchy and utterly joyous.
Alive - 9/10
This is another fantastic song that was rudely wasted as a promotional single. Will.i.am returns to the production desk for this gorgeous disco-soul-hip hop hybrid. As sunny and relaxed as a Sunday afternoon, "Alive" is an unexpected treat among all the club bangers and party anthems. This loses one point for a bit of vocoder overkill. Other than that, this breezy little gem is almost perfect.
Missing You - 8.5/10
Fergie pushes the pretenders aside to belt out the chorus on this winner. Produced by Printz Board (the man who crafted "Differently" for Cassie Davis), "Missing You" is a poptastic chorus wedged between electro verses and rap interludes. Like "Differently", it sounds like three different songs rolled into one but in this case it works.
Ring-A-Ling - 5/10
Despite being catchy in an incredibly annoying kind of way, "Ring-A-Ling" is a song in search of a melody. Think of this as an uptempo version of "Boom Boom Pow" without the killer rhymes. The production (courtesy of Keith Harris) is dazzling but as mum always says, you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. However, this is perfectly acceptable as an album track.
Party All The Time - 8/10
Yet another effortlessly uplifting and catchy party anthem. And again it's Fergie's vocal that lifts this track to the next level. The almost industrial electro beats are sometimes overwhelming but I defy you not to move your feet. I love the trashy lyrics and Fergie sings the hell out of the chorus. This just makes you want to down a beer and throw your hands in the air. My favourite lyric is "I want to party like Ibiza, we don't need a visa" and when Fergie begs "take me to the club so we can dance". This distills every fun weekend you've every had and rolls them all into one song.
Out Of My Head - 8/10
Fergie's only real lead vocal is on a track about being pissed in a club. Classy! It took me a couple of listens to warm to the deep funk of "Out Of My Head" but I like it more every time I hear it. The brass is a nice surprise and the line where Fergie demands vodka and Red Bull is seriously fabulous. This sounds a little like Jamiroquai - if he were a cheap, drunken whore on the prowl for penis.
Electric City - 5/10
A slightly monotonous rap track with migraine inducing sound effects. I swear Fergie sings "pictures of my dick, no my dildo". If that's the case, I take it all back and give this 10/10.
Showdown - 6.5/10
Band member apl.de.ap is given production duties on "Showdown" and he does a good job. It's nice to actually hear a couple of real instruments and the dance-hip hop blend works well, particularly in the chorus. I just think this is missing the hook to take it to the next level but it's decent filler.
Now Generation - 6/10
This is the song I mentioned earlier about social networking sites. It's fun and suits the album's theme but the lyrics are pretty embarrassing given that Fergie & co are all staring down the barrel of middle age. "Now Generation" has potential but the production is underdone and again, it lacks a hook. Even Fergie's wicked chorus can't save it.
One Tribe - 7/10
After a string of uninspiring electro-rap numbers, the Peas redeem themselves on this world music flavoured call for peace. I love the "woahs" and the simple lyrics are inspiring without being preachy. Think of this as the upbeat cousin of their breakthrough smash "Where Is The Love". C'mon, let's catch amnesia!
Rockin' To The Beat - 6.5/10
This disco meets electro floorfiller is a blatant excuse to play around with different production techniques and technologies. It's fun but there's no meaning to or emotion behind it and the song ultimately brings nothing new to "The E.N.D.". That said it's a perfectly harmless conclusion to an otherwise fun album.
Where You Wanna Go - 8.5/10
I can't believe this catchy little tune didn't make the final cut! "Where You Wanna Go" has hit written all over it! Will.i.am's short bursts of rap cradle a remarkable pop-rock chorus that allows Fergie to show off her powerful pipes. This is definitely worth hunting down.
Simple Little Melody - 9/10
Boys Noize are a relatively unknown German production outfit but I wish the Peas had hired them to produce more than this solitary track. "Simple Little Melody" is a wicked cross between Eiffel 65 and Royksopp that wouldn't sound out of place on a 90s trance compilation. Well, the bits without the futuristic effects anyway! This delivers exactly what the title promises - a simple little melody that gets stuck in your head and refuses to budge. It's worth buying the Deluxe Edition of "The E.N.D." for this gem alone. As Fergie sings, this "equals BEP, bitch"!
Mare - 4/10
Unfortunately, this isn't about a horse. It's just another rape of an old A R Rahman song. Can the Indian craze please be over soon? I'm yet to hear anything decent come from it and that includes PCD's abysmal "Jai Ho".
Don't Bring Me Down - 7/10
Slightly reminiscent of "Pump It", this joyous little number borrows elements from 70s rock and soul. The rap verses are slightly boring but the feel good chorus is another winner. It's just not quite as polished as the other party anthems on the album.
That's The Joint - 2/10
An unnecessary jazz improv session that feels extremely out of place. "That's The Joint" really should be collecting dust on a studio shelf somewhere.
Another Weekend - 4.5/10
This boring and anonymous hip hop jam will only appeal to urban fans. Fergie's vocal is slinky and sexy but this goes nowhere fast.
Bonus Remixes - 7/10
The bonus disc also includes the following remixes of previous BEP hits. They're all fun but none of them improve on the original. That being said, they're nice to have in the collection and it's nice to get some value for money for a change.
Pump It Harder (a remix of "Pump It")
Let's Get Re-Started (a remix of "Let's Get Retarded")
Shut The Phunk Up (a remix of "Shut Up")
Don't Phunk Around (a remix of "Don't Phunk With My Heart")