The Black Eyed Peas' second and third albums both boast songs that double as mission statements. For the mellow, genre-hopping Bridging The Gap, it was the title track. For the clattering, busy, borderline-lobotomized Elephunk, it would have to be "Let's Get Retarded." With Elephunk, The Black Eyed Peas made the rare leap from underrated and overlooked to obnoxiously (and undeservedly) overexposed. The group was no longer a cult favorite; its inane but lucrative brand of overproduced, underwritten dance-rap was suddenly popping up in all sorts of unspeakably lame places: Garfield: The Movie and a stunningly anticlimactic dance sequence between Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Be Cool, just for starters. And perhaps unsurprisingly, "Let's Get Retarded" was retooled as "Let's Get It Started" and used to advertise football broadcasts.
Now, having provided the soundtrack to many of last year's pop-culture nadirs, the Peas have moved on to jacking one of the 1990s' quintessential soundtrack moments by kicking off their new album with a song rooted in the hyper-caffeinated surf-guitar majesty of Dick Dale's "Miserlou." The ensuing track, "Pump It," won't win any awards for originality or lyrical insight, but it at least kicks off the album with a sugar rush equivalent to half a dozen Pixie sticks. "Don't Phunk With My Heart," the album's next track and first single, continues the summertime vibe of dumb fun, but the album soon loses focus and momentum. The group's vaunted eclecticism starts to feel random and jittery, the mark of short attention spans and an inability to maintain a cohesive tone. Furthermore, the Peas' lyricsalready their Achilles heelhave somehow managed to devolve even further. Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz regularly express more profound sentiments in their music than the Black Eyed Peas' endless, unimaginative calls for party people to get on the floor and move their bodies. The album's low point in that respect would have to be "My Humps," a clamorous ditty designed as a showcase for Fergie, the group's token pop-tart. The song simultaneously rips off "Funky Cold Medina" and "Milkshake," while contributing two of the least appealing euphemisms for female body parts ever dreamed up: the aforementioned humps and "lady lumps."
Monkey Business boasts an impressive roster of guests, and while the presence of ringers like Cee-Lo, Q-Tip, and Talib Kweli elevates "Like That," the most telling guest spot belongs to Sting, whose sleepy light-jazz stylings add an additional element of suckitude to the album-closing "Union." His presence seems strangely fitting, since with this album, The Black Eyed Peas join the famously bland former Police frontman in the pantheon of formerly interesting pop stars who sacrificed their integrity for success. Monkey Business' pop pandering may keep the hits coming, but only at a tremendous creative cost.