The summer music bubble was a hot, frothy mess this year — a shuffling deck of hit singles and left-for-dead artists suddenly back on top. While our favorite bourgie white girls played ghetto house with their famous beat makers like never before, whatever song hit the sex-and-slang button the hardest made it through the melee (sorry, Jessica). The bubble’s been primed to pop for a while now — all it needed was “The Dutchess,” the long-awaited debut album from Stacey “Fergie” Ferguson of Black Eyed Peas fame. Trumping all the other divas-du-jour in shameless self-deprecation and sleek lioness posturing, “The Dutchess” is a fitting end to a bustling season, the perfect McPop happy meal to keep down the vodka and Red Bull of those long, hedonistic summer nights.
The first track, aptly titled “Fergalicious,” has certainly learned a thing or two from many a fast-food jingle: she’s hot, tasty and delicious, and like the new Burger King chicken fries, she goes after that coveted young male demographic. Though Fergie doesn’t demean herself to the same female-as-food level as a Kelis or a Lil’ Kim, she does boast about her ability to spend hours on end in the gym; now all we need is a chart-topping starlet to fart in public, and we’ll know the shark has officially been jumped.
Speaking of which, lead single “London Bridge” is about as close to bodily functions put to music as this reviewer has ever heard. Even the most unabashed “My Humps” groupies turn a pale shade of rose when they catch a whiff of this one — the lyrics are the pop equivalent of liquid cheese (“All my girls get down on the floor/ Back to back drop it down real low/ I’m such a lady but I’m dancin’ like a ho/ ’Cuz you know I don’t give a f—k so here we go”), while the backbeat, produced by Atlanta crunk-apostle Polow da Don, is “Crazy in Love” dripping with sweat and dragged through the mud after an all-night bender. Naturally, it shot straight to No. 1 almost instantly.
In a way, Fergie is more America’s sweetheart than an army of Kelly Clarksons could claim to be. There’s really something admirable about an artist so loud, brash and unapologetic — she’s the class clown writ large, but unlike Bush America, she doesn’t try to hide her freaky side, nor her dark side. Take “Voodoo Doll” — an off-the-wall, post-Gwen Stefani screecher where Ferg battles her druggled-addled former self (who apparently had a Jamaican accent) over one of BEP mastermind will.i.am’s mercifully sparse and soul-influenced productions. “I don’t have arms/ I don’t have legs/ I don’t have any human qualities,” she whispers, zombie-style.
And as much as I hate to admit it, the girl can sing. Up-and-coming second-single “Clumsy” splices Fergie’s tipsy “London Bridge” approach with an old-school, Supremes-era style, though the pop-and-snap beat is more “Steal My Sunshine” (remember that one?) than ’60s bebop. Here, her silky voice isn’t wrung through as much studio machinery as usual. The result is refreshingly sultry, like pre-street Nelly Furtado, only from the L.A. ’burbs instead of a hippie Canadian commune.
If only the rest of the album maintained her cheeky sense of humor and deadpan delivery. Unfortunately, the ballads — and there are quite a few of them — just plain suck. Exhibit A: “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” a guitar-slaughtering weepie so blubbering it’d make Celine nauseous; exhibit B: “Finally,” more of the same, only worse. The verdict: Stacey Ferguson is never to be left alone in a room with an acoustic instrument.
But strip away the fat and you’re left with one of the most hip-happy party albums of the year, following a summer that certainly didn’t long for them. Honestly, in this era of MySpace and YouTube, it’s hard to blame pop stars for congregating around the hottest producers like drunk spring-breakers to a bonfire, for shooting straight for the amygdala with each succeeding single, or for getting crunker, blonder and more promiscuous with every passing day. The future of smash music is pop on steroids, hitting the gym at any free moment, dropping her London Bridge whenever you come around, and her name is Fergie.