[9 May 2013]
Will.i.am (William Adams) has played a gargantuan role in pop music. As one quarter of genre-bending band The Black Eyed Peas, the producer, rapper, and singer has achieved phenomenal success. The key is that his success has been constrained to his band or collaborations with others. As a solo artist, success has eluded him; Songs About Girls (2007) delivered a minor pop hit with “I Got It From My Mama”, but failed to capitalize commercially. On #willpower, the pop/party-rapper aims for big incorporating numerous stylistic ideas and exceptional production. He even frequently incorporates the Czech Symphony Orchestra! The problems, however, lie within the ‘depth’ of the effort, in addition to exhaustive song lengths and overall album duration.
Following an introductory track (“Good Morning”), will.i.am continues his cordialness with “Hello”, an enthusiastic, typical danceable cut. Well produced and reasonably enjoyable, will.i.am predictably doesn’t go cerebral lyrically, simply stating “I don’t wanna be alone tonight / I’ll be rocking with you, rocking with you…” Similarly, things hold up with pop numbers “This is Love”, featuring Eva Simons as well as the set’s crowning achievement, “Scream & Shout”, featuring Britney Spears (“I wanna scream and shout and let it all out…we sayin’ oh-wee-oh, wee-oh-wee oh…”). Both cuts are gimmicky, with their success built more on sound than lyrical prowess. Even so, both prove to be among the ‘best of the best’.
“Let’s Go” featuring Chris Brown doesn’t totally derail things (yet), but threatens at nearly six minutes in duration. Written similarly ‘small’ like “This is Love” or “Scream & Shout”, will.i.am’s come ons to his potential next gal pal are pathetically schmaltzy: “Girl I’m a make you mine / hot damn you’re fine, I want your body…” The degeneration truly ensues on “Gettin’ Dumb”, featuring aple.de.ap & 2ne1. As the title suggests, things begin ‘getting dumb’, even if the track itself is referencing ‘drinking’ and ‘turning it up’ in the club. Top-rate production can’t save it, or the equally silly “Geekin’”, in which will.i.am details his love for technology, clumsily rapping “Hey I roll with gangsta geeks / We’re white cold like Dr. Dre been making beats…” Amongst the biggest misses of the album is “Freshy”, a collaboration featuring “Bandz a Make Her Dance” MC Juicy J. Embarrassing, Juicy J’s swag is to be questioned here.
Single “#ThatPower” is a savior of sorts, bringing in pop’s ‘it’ star in Justin Bieber on a corny, but catchy enough hook. Even so, it’s no home run. will.i.am attempts to broaden his horizons on the more serious numbers, “Great Times Are Coming” and “The World is Crazy”, but with so much preceding ludicrousness, will.i.am’s intentions become overshadowed. Miley Cyrus doesn’t help the downturn, adding more fuel to the fire on the utterly ridiculous “Fall Down” (“You make my world, you make my world go ‘round / you turn me up / you turn me upside down…”). Hip-hop’s burgeoning darling Skylar Grey stabilizes just enough on “Love Bullets”, but it is an assist from Nicole Scherzinger that makes “Far Away From Home” one of the better showings on a flawed album.
“Ghetto Ghetto” has a redeeming moment in Baby Kaely’s thoughtful hook. “Reach for the Stars” falls flat, despite featuring a huge personnel of musicians (strings, gospel choirs, etc.). Final cuts “Smile Mona Lisa” and “Bang Bang” don’t stand a chance after nearly seventy minutes of mediocre material has already passed. Neither change the album’s course for the worst.
Ultimately, #willpower is an overstuffed pop album that tries too hard to be trendy while not trying hard enough to be cohesive or truly meaningful. The production is the effort’s strongest suit, but more often than not, will.i.am and his collaborators ‘go too dumb’ for the sound itself to serve as atonement for substandard material. #willpower has its moments scattered here and there, but stumbles far too often to be a critically cohesive triumph.