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Double Dutchess: a pop artist with actual emotion and creativity

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(‘Double Dutchess’ / Fergie Official Website)

Fergie’s album, a decade in the making, falls for the familiar traps of a “serious” album, but her personality matched with will.i.am’s production feels genuine and unique.

The first solo effort, Fergie’s “The Dutchess,” was released in 2006, produced by will.i.am., with a glossy, regal sound on songs like “Glamorous” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” The band toured for several years off of two albums with Fergie continually pushing toward her second solo effort.

Eleven years later, she’s released the appropriately titled “Double Dutchess.” Will.i.am returns as executive producer with the entire album under Fergie’s creative discretion.

“Becoming a mom and getting pregnant reset me. I just got on my game. I’ve never taken on this much responsibility…and I kept wanting to make it better and better. I wanted to strive for greatness,” Fergie said to Entertainment Weekly.

The limbo of its production can be felt when you consider its first single was in 2014. Deeply personal and genre expanding, “Double Dutchess” might hit the beats of a typical pop-goes-serious album, but with earnest and creativity.

While her first album had a very unique and purposeful over-polished aesthetic, “Double Dutchess” opens its gate with a fierce, 2017-molded sound. “Hungry,” with a mild touch of cloud-rap in its baroque choir harmonies, creates an air of regality in congruence to DJ Mustard’s trap hi-hats. If she was first a “Dutchess,” now she’s chasing a crown: “Not thirsty, just hungry. Ambitious, still hungry…Still hungry.” It’s a solid track. The gothic choir backing gives it something to stand out of against its contemporaries. The following song, “Like It Ain’t Nuttin’” is a bit of a mess. The opening and returning hi-hat crescendo motif is a tiny assault on the ears. Fergie relaxes into her rap vocal delivery, and while a little like Charli XCX, it’s refreshingly original.

“You Already Know” is wholly something unique. C&C Music Factory’s “It Takes Two” has been a long time sample in rap for its background vocal chants. With a flat 90’s synth played minor and trap hi hat’s, the song’s one foot in the past and two in the present is a fresh, nuanced sound. The sound drops for a slow, simple synth crescendo; every hook Fergie sings in her contrasting, glossy voice. Will.i.am.’s touch can be heard all over with synth breaks and even a brief motown soul flourish. The song’s touted as the interlude version, with the last two and a half minutes offering a smokey bar haze and Fergie’s seductive R&B coos. There’s even an accompanying saxophone dip. “A Little Work” has Fergie dropping triplets over far more contemplative trap bass. She powerfully reminisces over her struggle with methamphetamine several years before her first album. The song is laced with a charming youth choir that almost sounds like Pacobel’s Canon in D’s famous progression.

“M.I.L.F. $” (pronounced “milf money”)  may be a bit crass, but it’s endearing. The song drives fast with the same trap-inspired soundscape, but has a great, escalating bridge with an aggressive statement of her hard work that leads into a final chorus, spacious enough for her bold personality and cheered on with stadium chanting. “Save It Til Morning” is reminiscent of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in its verses acoustic guitar licks, but it never let’s go of its drums. Each chorus also ends with a line delivered in the same manner as the 2006 single. The similarities are jarringly obvious, but sounds far more unoriginal than the mere nudge it pretends to be. Her earnest saves the song as it runs the same checklist of a typical “non-acoustic artist makes an acoustic ballad.” Each of song’s highlights come between cutting room scraps. “Tension” is a too-simple club-love ballad; the vocals are the only thing moving the track. “Enchante” sounds like dancehall trying not to be dancehall, with only occasional muted vocal deliveries that give the track some meat. The last two songs, back to back “Love Is Blind” and “Love Is Pain” play the album out cheery to bluesy. “Love Is Blind” plays like a typical reggae-influenced pop track, acting as the muse and contrast to “Love Is Pain,” which is stretched a bit too long. Fergie’s final chorus makes up for this though, delivering heart-break lines, digging deep into all-too-real experiences of heartbreak. Her voice reaches that familiar, powerful and almost masculine roar of strength through hardship.

A few, very brief times on “Double Dutchess,” Fergie sheds the regal cloak of a diva and really communicates that other side. While it may play out like a typical “serious” pop album, with a good handful of misguided genre attempts or dull, shallow fillers, the big singles deliver and the heartfelt moments feel truly heartfelt. The production let’s Fergie’s personality shine when it can; Fergie came through with her promise of something completely of her own creation.

 

Matthew Joseph can be reached at [email protected].

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