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Fergie - Dutchess

Fergie, Dutchess

Review by Jack Foley

FERGIE from the Black Eyed Peas is nothing if not prolific. Having played a key part in that band’s world-wide success story, she has also found time to appear in Poseidon and launch a solo career.

Hence, Dutchess was recorded while on the road with BEP and produced by Will.I.am. It’s essentially a pop record that draws on a wide variety of inspirations, from the attitude-laden pop of Pink, to the sassy hip-hop attitude of Missy Elliott, right through to the nu-look Nelly Furtado and the all-consuming style of Gwen Stefani – and it’s only partially successful.

In fact, the second half of the long-player is arguably much better than the first, benefitting from the increasingly assured sense of delivery and the confidence to mix styles more frequently.

Opening track, Fergalicious, for instance, is a fairly routine slice of pop-savvy hip-hop – the type that Missy Elliott churns out in her sleep and the Black Eyed Peas drop as countless album fillers. It’s lively, fast-talking and attitude-laden but in no way kickstarts the album as distinctly as it should have (rather than stamping it with her own sense of style, she merely sounds like a copycat).

The same can be said for lead single London Bridge, a generic club hit that is both crass and lazily conceived. Never mind the fact the suggestive lyrics don’t make sense, it’s also hopelessly generic and relies on an overly familiar blend of massive beats, horns, sirens and sassy rapping (Nelly Furtado is currently leading the way with this sort of thing).

Sandwiched in the middle of these two are the tracks Clumsy and All That I Got (The Make Up Song) that effectively showcase the best side of the album. The former, especially, is a guilty pleasure that’s built around cheesy samples, an old-skool style and vocals that resemble Pink in her prime. It’s a feel-good record that strips away the attitude and layers on the sweetness to endearing effect, especially with the crooner-style ‘woo-hoos’ and male backing chorus of “can’t help it, the girl can’t help it”.

All That I Got, meanwhile, is a slow-burning ballad that finds Fergie in sultry, husky mode and adopting some retro Motown sensibilities. It’s not that different from a lot of ballads and yet it somehow registers strongly because of the singer’s confident delivery.

Elsewhere, it’s pretty much a mixed bag. Tracks like Pedestal, which adapts the ‘London Bridge is falling down’ rhyme as its chorus, and Voodoo Doll are instantly forgettable and do nothing to suggest that Fergie can really emerge as a potent force in her own right.

But just when you’re prepared to dismiss it as average, the latter half picks up and continually surprises. Glamorous is a clever ode to luxury living that’s delivered in silky smooth fashion complete with a smart finger-clicking beat and a distorted rap from Ludacris that’s tailor-made for chart success.

It’s immediately followed by the cleverly adapted Motown classic Here I Come that’s a real party-pleaser, as well as evidence of Fergie having fun and not really attempting to emulate anyone. It may essentially be a cover version but it’s effortlessly infectious and a nice homage to the original.

There’s a freshness surrounding Big Girls Don’t Cry which, again, finds Fergie opening her lungs and really letting go against some slick, pop-friendly beats and lush acoustic guitar riffs. It resembles some of Pink’s biggest chart hits but is just a really well constructed pop record that benefits from Fergie’s authoritative vocals.

And there’s a nice reggae/ska moment that she shares with Rita Marley on Mary Jane Shoes that once again underlines the eclectic nature of the album as a whole – emerging as a scintillating mix of old-school Bob Marley married with No Doubt.

With so much working in its favour, it becomes all the more frustrating to hear Fergie relying on such formulaic devices early on. It means that Dutchess fails to register as strongly as the latest album from Nelly Furtado or the debut offering from Gwen Stefani even though it has plenty of guilty pleasures along the way.

Track listing:

  1. Fergalicious
  2. Clumsy
  3. All That I Got (The Make Up Song)
  4. London Bridge
  5. Pedestal
  6. Voodoo Doll
  7. Glamorous
  8. Here I Come
  9. Velvet
  10. Big Girls Don’t Cry
  11. Mary Jane Shoes
  12. Losing My Ground
  13. Finally