It's strange to think that, earlier in their career, The Black Eyed Peas were classified as an alternative hip-hop act, and were often confused with both Eagle-Eye Cherry and Third Eye Blind (two bands that quickly vanished with the conclusion of the TRL era) but have since gone on to recruit a readymade pop diva in Fergie and churn out an endless string of platinum-selling party anthems. Even the overlong name The Black Eyed Peas—probably chosen because the group features members of African-American and Native American extraction, cowpeas figuring into the cuisine of both cultures—and the self-consciously off-beat, futuristic stylizations of originating band members apl.de.ap's and will.i.am's pseudonyms seem to have been consciously implemented to align the band with alt-rap's earth-bound, homespun charms, at a point in the history of pop music when that movement was still flourishing, albeit in a very minor way. That they have retained their borderline socially conscious band name, with its undertones of racial unity, and currently produce what can only be described as "club music," suggests that The Black Eyed Peas may be prime candidates for the title of "Biggest Sell-Outs of Their Generation."

Now, this isn't strictly an argument against the efficacy of their music: it cannot be denied that will.i.am has penned some of the most memorable pop singles of the last decade. And it would probably be out of mere bitterness and jealousy that one might dismiss the work of as successful a band or artist on the sole basis of his or her or their having made radical concessions to pop mega-stardom. Needless to say, The Black Eyed Peas are a very easy band to hate: in retrospect, the choice to call to their ranks Fergie, all of her talents notwithstanding, seems to have been motivated by a desire to attack on all fronts the pop music-consuming public for the purposes of guaranteeing a long career of highly profitable genre-bending novelty records.

But it's also easy to forget that pop music is an entertainment medium which must be judged along the aesthetic criteria of a medium for which "selling out" is an artistic triumph. While record companies can promote an album like, say, Come Around Sundown on the basis that Kings of Leon have released high-charting singles and are pouty handsome men, there is no measure within their capabilities that can be implemented to ensure that listeners will not hate the CD they've bought. Similarly, a record can only become a hit if it is properly promoted, but in most cases, such measures are a foregone conclusion: a song must have already built up its own forward momentum, or must boast some, if it's even possible, intrinsically "pop hit"-like qualities to warrant the effort in the fist place. So, that The Black Eyed Peas are top-grossing singles artists is more a testament to how audiences actually respond to their songs: very positively.

And while it would be easy enough to nitpick and complain about some of the band's hackneyed source material for song samples, or the self-consciously "offbeat" nature of their pseudo-futuristic-electro-disco-auto-tuned-rappers-and-diva-vocals-club anthems, the real challenge of reviewing an album like The Beginning is accepting as a given that the group's music will always be completely idiotic, its samples will always be in poor taste and its lyrics will almost exclusively deal with themes of club-going and little else. For example, "The Time (Dirty Bit)" effectually sutures the sparse production aesthetic of The E.N.D.'s "Boom Boom Pow" to a faithful interpolation of "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," which is best remembered from the finale of the film Dirty Dancing, resulting in an infectiously catchy club anthem. "Light Up the Night" subvert's Slick Rick's classic urban morality play "Children's Story" into the upbeat ode to blowing all of your money in a nightclub that it always wanted to be, in keeping with the group's declaration that The Beginning is a sequel to The E.N.D., this track strongly invokes "I Gotta Feeling" and is at its worst a welcome companion piece to the 2009 smash hit. For "Love You Long Time", DJ will.i.am throws KC & The Sunshine Band's "Give It Up" onto the turntable for, you guessed it, a song having to do with nightclubs. But, again, regardless of whether or not you feel that these choices reflect bad taste, or would prefer to hear music that explores slightly more diverse themes, it cannot be denied that will.i.am has not failed to deliver, with these three tracks, the product that is expected of him.

Similiarly effective is "XOXOXO," the first track on the album not based around a highly recognizable sample. While its rapped verses with their murky drum samples and sparing synths maintain a decidedly black and white mood and texture, its choruses explode—though it's a restrained explosion—in lustrous brights. Though it isn't, strictly speaking, a sample (but borders on copyright harm), "Someday" borrows the chord progression and melody from Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game". But regardless of whether or not you feel that the ethical unscrupulousness of The Black Eyed Peas is enough to discourage your enjoyment of their music, the source material is, in every way, shape and a form, a perfect song, as is this will.i.am-ifed sort-of-cover. Similarly, "Whenever" and to a lesser extent "Play It Loud" work quite well, probably because we've heard these chord progressions and melody before in thousands of different permutations, and here receive it through the perceptive filter of The Black Eyed Peas, who receive bonus points for, in the former, combining elements of gentle, intimate folk-rock with a pounding, party-'til-you-drop house beat and keeping the arbitrary "blips" and "bleeps" to a minimum.

Of course, one of the drawbacks of writing nothing but silly novelty songs is that sometimes they're a little too silly for their own good. "Fashion Beats," which is based around "My Forbidden Lover" by Chic, constitutes something of a misstep, but the band immediately makes it better with "Don't Stop the Party", an authentically Euro-trashy house track with an explosive bass line and another fairly decent hook. The first real stinker of the album is "Do It Like This." Recalling "Imma Be", it is yet another repetitive double-dutch chant over sparse instrumentation, which unsuccessfully attempts to batter the listener into submission. Coincidentally, "The Best One Yet (The Boy)" is the best track on the album: teeming with dense synth textures, it features a fine performance by Fergie and a memorable chorus. Though "Just Can't Get Enough" suffers from the aforementioned "blips" and "bleeps," as well as something that sounds like a voiceover from an early 90's video game, it features another adequate hook, sung adequately by the adequate Fergie.

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