If you, like me, imagined that ``The Dutchess," the debut album from Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas , would be a non stop mindless booty-shaking party jam, it's understandable. ``London Bridge," the lascivious and weirdly ravishing first single, is exactly the sort of sleazy little rap track we expected from the silly/sexy girl who sang ``My Humps," and the track sailed up the Billboard charts with record-breaking speed. ``Fergalicious," the attitudinal opening song that will shortly hit the airwaves, is made in the same mold: asinine words repeated ad nauseum over producer (and fellow Pea)will.i.am's itchy beats and foxy bits of melody.
But the rest of the disc, in stores today, is all over the map. Fergie flirts with old-school soul, ska, torch music, mainstream pop, and string-drenched balladry in addition to the easy-going hip-hop. All of it is delivered credibly, although by album's end (``Finally," a John Legend-produced track that would be a lovely addition to the ``Beauty and the Beast" soundtrack) the 31-year-old singer sounds like she's just auditioned for six different careers.
Listeners will be reminded, like it or not, of Fergie's past accomplishments. In the spirit of the Disney television show ``Kids Incorporated" (on which the artist formerly known as Stacy Ferguson was a regular), ``Big Girls Don't Cry" nattily replicates a pop standard of the moment. It also sounds a lot like Fergie's former teen-pop girl group Wild Orchid , although ``Glamorous," a silky-smooth collaboration with Ludacris , covers that sleek '90s territory, as well. ``Mary Jane Shoes," which features Rita Marley , morphs from a laid-back reggae anthem to a vicious punk tune to a jazz scat with the helter-skelter energy of a speed freak. In case you've missed the recent media blitz, Fergie has come out as a former crystal-meth addict, a biographical tidbit revealed just in time for the album's publicity campaign.
Skepticism aside, ``The Dutchess" is endlessly appealing. There isn't a rotten track in the bunch, and Fergie gets credit for somewhat fearlessly indulging in such a counterintuitive range of musical styles. It doesn't make much sense, and it won't much matter a year from now. But to paraphrase the first of what is sure to be a fistful of smash hits, it goes down, easy, every time.
Joan Anderman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org