Having expressed his disgruntlement, on last year's The E.N.D., that "there is no album anymore" when "you can put 12 songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs", Black Eyed Peas mainman will.i.am wheels out his favoured rescue strategy with The Beginning, on which all the tracks are seamlessly segued into one long flow.
Try picking them apart, and you'll lose the smooth intros; played as it's intended, however, this surely comprises the party album of the year, one you're probably going to become thoroughly familiar with over the festive season.
Current single "The Time (Dirty Bit)" gets the party started, the familiar Dirty Dancing refrain intro giving way to a woozy, pitch-shifting synth groove, with will and Fergie having the time of their lives "getting freaky for you baby". It's a textbook blend of the over-familiar and the electronically treated, though their use of auto-tune and digital-stutter vocal effects is a touch more restrained than usual. From there on, the aspect never extends beyond the dancefloor, with martial synth-stomp riffs, spartan electro beats and loping bass grooves driving tracks whose single-mindedness is signalled by titles like "Don't Stop the Party" and "Do It Like This". The philosophy, if one could thus dignify it, is best summed up on "Play It Loud": "I pledge my allegiance to rhythm and sound/ Music is my medicine/ Let the rhythm pound". Though, ironically, behind this alleged affinity for the brusquely physical, this closing track features the most poignant, soulful melody on the entire album, with something of a Radiohead quality about it.
Throughout the album, the subservience – and in some cases, transformation – of human to machine continues apace on tracks such as "Love You Long Time" and "XOXOXO". Set to a stammering synth groove, the latter reflects modern love as something essentially mediated by machines and screens, as if the verifiable status of phone-texted or emailed expressions of love were somehow more "real" than personal expressions – rather in the manner of those gig-goers who hoist their videophones aloft as soon as the act comes onstage, and spend the entire show staring at the tiny two-inch LCD image of the performance, rather than the actual show happening right in front of them.
On "Love You Long Time", the classic hooker's cliche is batted back and forth between boy and girl voices, both auto-tuned into perverse cartoons of desire and sexual longing, with the effect that when the male voice finally offers a verse untreated, it has an emotional honesty of vastly increased potency. Elsewhere, other highlights include "Just Can't Get Enough" – not the Depeche Mode song – which vaults suddenly from the rare dignity of string-synth textures to a sweatily pumping techno finale; and "Fashion Beats", which applies the reliable propulsion of a Chic-style groove to a bout of Franglais voguing.
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