It took so long for the Black Eyed Peas to finally achieve a commercial breakthrough with their 2003 album ''Elephunk," it seems mean to begrudge them all the fun they're having milking their newfound fame. Hence, forgive them for pimping their song, ''Let's Get Retarded," into the NBA anthem, ''Let's Get It Started," and glance, as nonjudgmentally as possible, at their shilling for
Having concocted a Grammy-winning, multimillion-selling formula -- pleasant, hummable, inoffensive hip-hop for the masses -- it would be foolish to expect them to mess with success. And so it is with their latest album, ''Monkey Business." These 15 new tracks aren't exact copies of the inescapable hits ''Where Is the Love?" and ''Hey Mama," from ''Elephunk," but they maintain the same effusive spirit. They're more reminiscent of early hip-hop's party days than the malice and mayhem of contemporary rap.
And really, what's wrong with that? Sometimes you just wanna nod your head and dance, and the Black Eyed Peas -- rappers will.i.am, apl.de.ap, Taboo, and singer Fergie -- have beats aplenty. ''Pump It," the opening track, samples ''Misirlou," the surf-guitar classic by Dick Dale and his Del-Tones, and it's goofy fun. ''Don't Phunk With My Heart," the first single is OK, but even better is ''My Style," featuring Justin Timberlake. Of course, it was JT crooning the hooky chorus of their breakthrough hit, ''Where is the Love?" Even though he's doing the same thing here, it's Timbaland's funky-plus production that really shines.
Lyrically, well, one may wonder why it took six people to write such lines as ''I know that you like my style, I know that you like my style, I came here to turn you out, everybody in the place get wild." Then again, when the group favored weightier rhymes on earlier albums, they flailed in obscurity. Now, with such trifles as ''My Humps," in reverence of Fergie's rear end, the album will probably go multiplatinum.
Sure, there are plenty of featherweight lyrics here, but occasionally, the group manages to put as much thought into a song's sentiment as the music. ''Don't Lie" gives Fergie a lovely vocal, a nice change since she's often reduced to just singing hooks.
For all the Peas' commercial leanings, they manage to avoid the most obvious collaborations. The breezy ''Like That" is heavy with well-placed guest turns from singer John Legend and rappers Q-Tip, Cee-Lo, and Talib Kweli. Equally winning is ''Gone Going," with a sample of alt-pop singer Jack Johnson's ''Gone," which works better than it has any right to, and is a cautionary tale about the soul-altering ramifications of empty success. There's even a duet with James Brown on ''They Don't Want Music," which, if not spectacular, is tolerable.
More of a head-scratcher is ''Union" with Sting, which boosts ''Englishman in New York." It isn't a terrible song, but comes off like a naked attempt to pander to an adult contemporary audience. For old-school fans, this album may be even more of a sell-out than ''Elephunk." Still, if nothing here is groundbreaking, there's more than enough to keep stereo systems bumpin' through the summer.
Renée Graham can be reached at email@example.com