Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Black Eyed Peas

  • Behind the Front [Interscope, 1998] Neither
  • Bridging the Gap [Interscope, 2001] B-
  • Elephunk [A&M, 2003] A-
  • Monkey Business [A&M, 2005] ***
  • The E.N.D. [Interscope, 2009] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Behind the Front [Interscope, 1998] Neither

Bridging the Gap [Interscope, 2001]
"Refusing to preach about politics, guns and bitches," as one admirer puts it ("Thankfully there's no inkling of misogyny or homophobia--how refreshing!"), these well-meaners are the Jurassic Five's answer to Arrested Development. Proficient, bland, and dauntingly dull, their only threat is a promise to "take it back to the days of Mantronix" (no, please, anything but that). I can only guess why they clock corporate cash while accessible and manifestly civilized West Coast alt-rap megatalents like Lyrics Born, Del, and Aceyalone explore bootstrap entrepreneurship. Maybe they lucked into connected management. Maybe they take good meeting. Or maybe their very lack of content has the advantage of cosseting the commercial preconceptions that count for so much more with sellers than buyers. B-

Elephunk [A&M, 2003]
In which the unbelievably dull El Lay alt-rappers fabricate the brightest actual pop album of 2003. They remain unbelievable, but in pop that's just one more aesthetic nuance. Titles like "Let's Get Retarded," "Shut Up," and the guitar-driven "Anxiety" are what you'd hope except cleaner--tremendous ups every one. You can bet new member Fergie, a showbiz lifer who also put in a tour as JC Chasez's girlfriend, lured her pal Justin down for "Where Is the Love," an actual hit that actually called out "the CIA." Terrorists, the song claims. Rhymes with "The Bloods and the Crips and the KKK." A-

Monkey Business [A&M, 2005]
What all pop might be--so much brighter and kinder than it is ("Pump It," "Don't Phunk With My Heart"). ***

The E.N.D. [Interscope, 2009]
How dare people call this wondrous album--actual quotes, now--"insipid," "saccharine," "clumsy"? Only I don't mean people--I mean journalists professional and self-appointed, from rockist sourpusses to keepers of the hip-hop flame. Just plain people love it--love it so much that various of its tracks topped the pop charts nonstop for the entire summer. "Party All the Time" is no more a recipe for living than is instant Wi-Fi for all, the message of the supposedly "political" "Now Generation." But in a party anthem it's the definition of intelligence. Sampling classic rap rapaciously and as cool with Auto-Tune as with getting their drunk on, they party beginning to end, which as it happens is a far rarer achievement than signifying beginning to end. Maybe this album is dumb on the surface, though not as much as fools claim. But sure as showbiz it isn't dumb underneath. A

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