Witnessing a once credible hip hop artist evolve into a euro trash dance pundit is a perplexing experience. The trappings of fame and commercial success can be a dangerous and seductive beast and with his new album, it appears that Will.i.am has been swallowed whole by the music industry monster. As founding member of The Black Eyes Peas, Will and his band mates (then a three piece, before the addition of Fergie in 2003) looked set to become a seminal hip hop group of the time. The release of 1998's 'Behind The Front' and 2000's 'Bridging The Gap' excited a niche, underground audience with fluid, fun and intelligent rhymes complimented by soulful and jazz inspired grooves. While purist fans blamed Fergie for the band's descent into chart friendly hip – pop, there is no deflecting from the fact that Will.i.am has lost his way over the years.
The new album's deluxe addition, consisting of an overly long 18 tracks, are mostly comprised of generic dance beats. Often sounding like production by numbers, there is very little to save this from sterile, mechanical musical hell. Even the who's who of collaborations including Justin Bieber, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus feels like a diversion to distract the listener from realising that Will is struggling to find something to say musically. The articulate rhymes on which he built his reputation have been replaced by lyrics like "you could be my Coca Cola, let me sip it up" as heard on 'Fall Down' featuring Miley Cyrus. 'Ghetto, Ghetto' a duet performed with seven year old rapper Baby Kaely, seems to be Will's attempt to answer Jay Z's 'Hard Knock Life' or 'I Can' by Nas. The result unfortunately sounds cliché and sickly sweet. On the occasions where he makes the effort to write a rhyme, things don't fare much better, although the stark, rough edges of 'Freshy' Featuring Juicy J is a rare opportunity for head nodding. Credit must also be given to Nicole Scherzinger for her power house vocals on 'Far Away From Home'. With an earworm of a chorus, it's sure to be a future pop hit.
The combination of monotonous, computerised dance beats and building synths that hold no surprises is disappointing, while lacklustre, vacant lyrics only dumb down a musician that history has proven is capable of so much more. While shifting units is vital for any artist in the current industry, it's a shame that Will.i.am has sacrificed his musical integrity in the process.
Review by Karen Lawler