In the entertainment industry, Stacy Ferguson’s had more lives than your average cat. She started out on the teen show Kids, Incorporated with a cast that also spawned neo-soul underdog Rahsaan Patterson. From there, she went on to teen pop trio Wild Orchid, who scored a couple of minor hits in teen-pop’s late ‘90s heyday. Finally, she struck pay dirt as Fergie, the good luck charm for the Black Eyed Peas, turning them from underground hip-hop darlings into the multicultural, Grammy-winning ambassadors of pop-rap. The next inevitable step would be to make a defining solo statement, right?
Well, I’ll make things very easy for you. Fergie’s debut solo record, The Dutchess, is AWFUL. However, it’s no more awful than any of the two Fergie-assisted Black Eyed Peas records, which have combined to sell 7 million records in the U.S. So, despite any redeeming musical value, it’s entirely possible that The Dutchess will be a resounding success. Which would be a damn shame, not only because it reinforces my theory that pop music is on a collision course down the tubes, but also because Fergie is probably capable of doing much better.
At this point, everyone has heard “London Bridge”. This #1 hit takes some of Gwen Stefani’s schoolgirl sass and throws in a bit of ambiguous sleaze. While the song itself is addictive in a bizarre sort of way, it just seems like a retread of Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” and Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous”, and most tellingly, Fergie’s own “My Humps”, an embarrassingly catchy song featuring lascivious ass rhymes that turned out to be Black Eyed Peas’ biggest hit. Despite the song’s obvious attempt to recall the glories of past pop hits, the one thing that sticks out most about this track becomes a recurring theme throughout this album. Fergie is a SINGER. She talks or raps her way through half this album. Listen, girl, singing is your natural talent. If we wanted to hear rapping, we’d buy an MC Lyte record. Throughout The Dutchess, Fergie abandons her natural gift to appease the pop audience (and, very likely, her label, Interscope).
Too many of the songs here are lazy exercises over watered-down hip-hop beats that do nothing to establish Fergie as anyone we will even remotely give a damn about in five years. Songs like “Fergielicious” and “Glamorous” try so hard to be in the pocket of what’s currently going on musically that they’re already stale. Should a talented vocalist like Fergie really be trying so hard to ape the Pussycat Dolls? “Glamorous” is so bad that even Ludicrous (who usually lights up any song he guest appears on) sounds bored and tired here.
Part of the blame for this, I’m sure has to go to will.I.am, head Black Eyed Pea and committer of some of the worst musical atrocities to be unleashed on pop albums in the last two or three years. He commits his first atrocity less than five minutes into the album. The opening track, “Fergielicious”, not only tries to cutely rip off JJ Fad’s 1988 dance/rap smash “Supersonic”, but will’s rap interlude finds him pulling a Dan Quayle (kids, pull out your history books) and misspelling “tasty” as T-A-S-T-E-Y to fit the rhyme. People, that’s lazy. I guess Will would spell that L-A-Z-E-Y. Even songs that seem like they might be good-such as the smooth, Commodores-sampling “All That I Got (The Makeup Song)” are derailed when Will steps in as the guest rapper. Even when he shuts up and decides to just play producer, the results are mixed. “Clumsy” and “Here I Come” have cute samples (from Little Richard and The Temptations, respectively), but the end result just sounds awkward and forced.
The album undergoes a slight upturn in quality when Fergie decides to-geez, who’d have thunk it?-SING! She’s much better off imitating Pink (or Christina Aguilera, on the swirling ballad “Losing My Ground”) than she is imitating Gwen. The pretty, acoustic-laced “Big Girls Don’t Cry” gives her a chance to let her voice shine, and while she’s no Beyonce, she’s also no Ashlee Simpson. She won’t power-belt, but she can more than hold her own vocally. Even though the ska-ish “Mary Jane Shoes” is weaker than any song boasting a vocal cameo from Rita Marley and the I-Threes should be, Fergie again shows hints of promise on the John Legend-penned piano ballad “Finally”.
If any more confirmation is needed that The Black Eyed Peas sold their respective musical souls in the pursuit of success and money, then pick up The Duchess and become a believer. This album sounds like it was driven maybe 10% by an artist and 90% by a focus group. Fergie prances, preens, moans, talks and raps, but the result is canned and sterile. Even though the Christinas and Pinks of the world have proven that you can successfully merge artistic vision and radio-friendly music, Fergie’s The Duchess sounds like it’s only purpose was to take your money. Be smart and don’t part with yours if you come near this album.