After some excellent, but underappreciated hip-hop albums, the Black Eyed Peas were faced with a difficult choice: Do we want to be great or do we want to be popular?
With 2003's "Elephunk" and the addition of Fergie, they chose popular. Now with "The E.N.D." (Interscope), their third album in this hit-filled, moneymaking odyssey, the Black Eyed Peas serve up empty-headed, escapist, enjoy-yourself excitement like no one else around.
On the inescapable "Boom Boom Pow," their first No. 1 single, and the island-tinged "Electric City" built around a sample of Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy," the Peas dare you not to have a good time. Same holds for the irresistible "Showdown," which features the best of will.i.am's new fascination with Euro-flavored dance music.
"The E.N.D.," short for "The Energy Never Dies," is packed with upbeat dance numbers about forgetting your problems - "Rock That Body," "Party All the Time" and "Out of My Head," are all self-explanatory and will likely blast out of a radio at scheduled times for the rest of the year, along with the new single "I Gotta Feeling," which plays like a simplified "Ray of Light."
The Peas stretch a handful of times - excelling on the unifying world-beat anthem "One Tribe" and failing on "Now Generation," the new millennium's "We Didn't Start the Fire," which struggles with Fergie screaming, "I want it now!" like a kid jonesing for ice cream. "The E.N.D." may not be great, but it will be popular.
BLACK EYED PEAS "The E.N.D."
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE Boom! Boom! Pow! Radio's summer blockbuster arrives!
Sonic Youth's 'The Eternal'
Sonic Youth roll out some of their wildest experiments in years on "The Eternal" (Matador), throwing sharp-elbowed guitar solos, a tribute to Beat Generation poet Gregory Corso, and playful Kim Gordon vocals into their usual mix of layered Lee Ranaldo guitars and Thurston Moore's deadpan delivery. The sly "Poison Arrow" and crazed "Calming the Snake" are great, but the wildest moment - and most successful - comes with "Anti-Orgasm," a six-minute, epic rant that uses Orwellian doublespeak to argue that being against war and religion is like being against sex.
SONIC YOUTH "The Eternal"
THE GRADE A-
BOTTOM LINE Punk rock jabs and layers of atmospheric guitars