Know this going in: The E.N.D. may vibrate through the body, but it won’t send you racing to a Mensa meeting. Do not take this statement lightly — any listener who goes into The E.N.D. expecting poetry, or even anything more than shouts, slogans, and dance beats, will be terribly disappointed. Your I.Q. will drop a full point for every minute you let it play on the stereo.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday / Friday, Saturday, Saturday to Sunday / Get get get get get with us / You know what we say / Party every day / Pa pa pa party every day,” autotunes will.i.am, still the ostensible leader of the group even as Fergie has surpassed him in both recognizability and individual popularity. Do you see what he did there? He said Saturday twice because he needed three more syllables. This is typical of the lyrical quality of The E.N.D., and it’s enough to make you feel a little bit dirty for even listening. Fergie reduces herself to evoking the cadence of the chorus of “My Humps” in “Alive” as she raps “Your love your love your love / Your love is what it was / That had me feelin’ buzzed.” I’d speak for the contributions of the other two Peas, but their contributions are so randomly placed and ignorable as to barely exist.
Still, the current incarnation of the Black Eyed Peas — that is, the one that’s been in place since Fergie showed up during the recording of Elephunk — isn’t about lyrics. The E.N.D. was, as will.i.am tells it, inspired by a frenetic night of electro music in a neon-lit club, and as such, the relevance of the lyrics is lower than ever for the one-time indie rap crew. Every single one of these 15 tracks is precision engineered for club and radio play, and any words that appear are merely incidental vessels for the sake of shouting along and/or memorability.
No song drives this point home better than “Out of My Head”, which Fergie helpfully announces the coming of at the end of previous track “Party All the Time” by cooing, over and over, “I’m so ti’sy.” She then proceeds to do something that sounds like she’s making the song up as she goes along, while an admittedly great little boom-bap beat pulls heft from a slap bass loop. Fergie goes on to yell about “hittin’ the bar” and “livin’ it up” before she quite literally “forgets” the song for a couple of seconds going into the pre-chorus, after which the song turns into your normal, everyday dancepop fodder. Despite the obvious lack of time spent on the words, though, you can still dance to it, and may even find yourself smiling when the horns show up near the end. It’s not a bad track until you try to take it seriously, which could be said for pretty much the whole album.
Highlights of the album include “Imma be”, which despite the repetition of the title no less than 105 times (which makes it start to sound like “I’m a bee” after a while), takes a really interesting path from hip-hop attitude to club hit to jazz romp that holds up well to repeated listens. “I Gotta Feeling” is one of those dance tunes that’s impossible to hate thanks to something like good natured naïveté, and “Rock That Body” actually earns its Rob Base sample with a full-fledged dance hit (despite the chipmunk voices).
The album falls on its face, however, when it tries to let Fergie get expressive. “Electric City” is an awful M.I.A. knockoff that should never have gotten past the idea phase, and the saccharine melody of “Missing You” turns Fergie’s disco diva aspirations into something not just disposable — really, it’s all disposable — but plain forgettable.
If you can ignore the words and stomach an album on which it seems that ProTools isn’t just a production tool as much as it’s an integral instrument, The E.N.D. will do for you what you want it to. Black Eyed Peas, at this point, have left the socially-conscious party raps of their past completely behind, in favor of club hits and the type of radio fodder that’s going to be filling the airwaves all summer long. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if that’s what you want — admittedly, such an approach is probably pretty smart in an age where individual songs carry more weight than full albums. The beats are tight, the mood is right, and you’ll shake your ass well into the night. You just may not be able to respect yourself in the morning.