It’s pretty much a given that the hip-hop purists probably washed their hands of The Black Eyed Peas long ago. But if any of them were still hanging on, “The E.N.D.” with its shameless accessibility is sure to shake them off the bandwagon.
But to the Black Eyed Peas’ credit, they sound like they are having too much fun to care. The group has always been infused (OK, maybe drenched) with pop aspirations and sensibilities. So it’s no surprise that the new album is dripping with techno, electro and auto-tune. Normally this would be a kind of sad and tired as e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y is doing it these days. But since The Black Eyed Peas have never been loyal to any one genre, they’re a little bit freer to not give a damn who they alienate and just let it flow.
The formula is simple, but effective: Lay down a fat four-on-the-floor beat, add futuristic synths, trade off lines between various group members, let Fergie belt out the lead vocal or the hook, repeat.
The results vary from song to song. “Boom Boom Pow,” “Rock That Body” and “I Gotta Feeling” are the obvious breakout club favorites and candidates for endless remix opportunities. “Ring-A-Ling” and “Showdown” are more trite and generic and, as a result, don’t deliver quite as well. The Peas gets some surprisingly authentic-sounding funk going with “Out of My Head,” “Alive” and “One Tribe.” Other places they try to rock out (“Now Generation”) or get their dancehall groove on (“Electric City”) fall flat.
The E.N.D. is a mixed bag, but has more than enough worthwhile songs to make it worth picking up,
Battle For The Sun
Listening to “Battle For The Sun,” you wouldn’t know that after Placebo’s world tour for its last album, they were on the verge of breaking up.
They didn’t, but bi-singer Brian Molko and out gay bassist Stefan Olsdal had to jettison longtime drummer Steve Hewitt from the group and replace him with American drummer Steve Forrest. And it’s hard to argue with the results.
Placebo sounds ferociously happier and more upbeat on “Battle For the Sun” that they did on the moodier and electronic-tinged “Meds,” which was actually pretty damn good. But the sunnier disposition (pardon the pun) of this new record might actually allow it to (again, sorry for the pun) outshine its predecessor.
It may or may not be because of the new drummer, but it’s hard not to feel like Forrest has brought a breath of fresh air to the group, the way he pounds away on hard-charging tracks like, “For What It’s Worth,” “Breathe Underwater” and “The Never-Ending Why.”
But it’s not all brute force on this new release. Placebo has always been adventurous when experimenting with sonic textures, getting some spectacular results. The synth-ish guitar tones on “Bright Lights” and spare piano lines on “Kings of Medicine” elevate typical rock songs into something irresistibly uplifting. “Come Undone” benefits greatly from its dynamics between its hypnotic and soft verses and its heavily grunged-out chorus.
It looks like Placebo has easily won this battle.
Of Faith, Power and Glory
Up until and including its 2005 release, “Matter + Form,” VNV Nation’s brand of darkly positive and trance-ish electro-pop, kept getting stronger and more assured in both vision and songwriting, winning a devoted following along the way. Then in 2007, they dropped “Judgment,” which wasn’t bad but didn’t stir the imagination like previous efforts.
“Of Faith, Power and Glory” seems to have righted the course. Tracks like “Sentinel,” “In Defiance” and “Tomorrow Never Comes” find VNV back in aggressively danceable form. The duo’s goth fanbase have plenty to sink their teeth into thanks to the moodier and ominous-sounding tracks like “Army of Conflict” and “Ghost.”
As usual with VNV Nation albums, it’s the more low-key moments on the record that pack the most emotional punch. The moving digital balladry of “From My Hands” is arguably one of the best songs in the set, as is the equally soulful but more propulsive “Where There Is Light.”
These synthpop dynamos seem to have gotten their bearings back.
Larry Nichols can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.