Album Reviews: Monkey Business by The Black Eyed PeasBrace yourselves, pop fans. The Black Eyed Peas are about to be everywhere, and the BEP backlash will be just as ubiquitous. How can anyone resist attacking a band that's so shamelessly rehashed the elements of their big commercial breakthrough, Elephunk, and compounded the offense by pulling a P. Diddy and enlisting A-list rock collaborators like Sting and Jack Johnson to throw rehashes of their own work into the rehash stew? Where, oh where -- the detractors will cry -- is the originality? Where is the love?
But here's why the Peas are about to be everywhere, and why the backlash won't stick: Note for note and track for track, Monkey Business is a flat-out great pop record, as good or better than its predecessor. Yes, nearly every track features high-profile guests and/or samples earlier songs, but so what? The Peas' poppy brand of hip-hop has always been based in part on reinventing other people's music ("Walk This Way," anyone? P.M. Dawn? The Fugees?), and the fact is, they do it better than any other act on the scene right now, and with such sheer musical gusto that it's hard to accuse them of just cynically ripping off their influences.
This is why Dick Dale's "Misirlou" works as the backdrop to an old-school party rap anthem, from Dale's unmistakable surf guitar riff to that wailing mariachi horn. It's why listening to James Brown cop his own "Soul Power" groove on "They Don't Want Music" is so much fun, especially when the Godfather takes a much-welcome swipe at the tuneless "boom-boom-boom" of most current hip-hop. It's why even the "Pass the Dutchie/Walk Like an Egyptian" mashup that is "Dum Diddly" comes across more as homage than as blatant rip-off. Listening to Monkey Business is like seeing a great band in concert that isn't afraid to tip its own musical influences, and has fun letting its audience in on the "where have I heard that riff before?" game.
Okay, it is telling that this time around, Justin Timberlake sings about style rather than love on his guest spot (on the Timbaland-produced "My Style," which is a great song even if JT's presence is negligible). There's very little here of substance, as the Peas' old-school positivity threatens to get washed away at times under a tidal wave of party-hearty raps and low-brow silliness (Exhibit A: the brilliantly sophomoric "My Humps," on which Fergie sings about her "lovely lady lumps"...no, really). But let will.i.am and company have their fun. At least they're not dropping F-bombs in every verse and praising the virtues of the Almighty Bling. In an age of vapidly tuneless teen pop and mean-spirited hip-hop, the Black Eyed Peas' continued pursuit of musical world domination isn't a sellout -- it's a mission of mercy. - Andy Hermann
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