Album Reviews

Muse, Swizz Beatz & The Black Eyed Peas: still got it or stuck in the past?

These musical elder statesmen have all recently dropped albums and for two-thirds of them, it would seem like you can't teach old dogs new tricks

25 November 2018 - 00:00
The Black Eyed Peas are back with a new album sans Fergie.
The Black Eyed Peas are back with a new album sans Fergie.
Image: Supplied

Being an ageing musician must be frustrating. It must be similar to being one of those elderly lions in David Attenborough's reality shows. Sure, everyone in your pack ostensibly respects you, and your war stories from a generation ago still entertain, but now your knees creak, the savannah looks different and in the back of your mind you can't help but wonder if you still have it or not.

Last week musical elder statesmen Swizz Beats, The Black Eyed Peas and Muse all dropped albums and for two-thirds of them, it would seem like you can't teach old lions new tricks.

THE BLACK EYED PEAS: MASTER OF THE SUN

Back in my day, people used to tell me about how back in their day, The Black Eyed Peas were a serious and respectable rap group.

Reconciling that image with the hyper-poppy pseudo electronic but incredibly successful rap they were producing in the early to mid-2000s was a bigger task than my imagination could handle.

With this album the group, sans Fergie, seems to be trying to remind us (or themselves) that they've still got it. The result sounds like a midlife crisis.

Production-wise the album often sounds like a modernised version of hip-hop in the '90s, though every now and then it veers into the kind of pop territory that lost them their street cred in the first place.

WATCH | The music video for Big Love from The Black Eyed Pea's new album 

[WARNING! Video contains content that may upset sensitive viewers]

The problem is the rapping. Rap trends, like fashion ones, evolve, and while lines like "poetic fertiliser that's lyrical shit" would've sounded awesome in 1993, today it just sounds corny.

With this album, The Black Eyed Peas sound like they're trying to relive a time when they were still young, idealistic dreamers who just cared about the craft. It's like an apology for the Fergie era.

Unfortunately in this era, most people don't even care who the Black Eyed Peas are, never mind who they were.

SWIZZ BEATZ: POISON

Alicia Keys's husband has been making waves in the rap game since M-Net Open Time was still a thing. Happily for producer Swizz Beatz, though, he's always ridden the tides of changes well.

His latest album proves that ageing doesn't have to mean stagnating or becoming that artist who gets stuck in the "back in my day" trap. Poison is a showcase of what Swizz does well, giving his collaborators a chance to shine.

Whether it's UK rapper Giggs on Come Again, Pusha - T on Cold Blooded or 2 Chainz on Stunt, each song seems to fit each artist perfectly.

WATCH | The music video for Come Again from Swizz Beatz's new album

Poison succeeds because Swizz Beatz isn't trying to recapture former glories; he's trying to make new ones.

MUSE: SIMULATION THEORY

Arguably (believe me, I've experienced it) one of the best stadium rock bands of a generation, Muse find themselves in a bit of an existential crisis. Stadium Rock is not a thing anymore. Hell, one could make a strong argument that Rock, in general, is not a thing anymore.

So what do three hyper-talented musicians do when the style of music that made them cool goes out of fashion? Apparently, they make the same album they've always made.

Sure Simulation Theory has a bit more of an '80s futuristic aesthetic than their previous works and they are perhaps a little less indulgent than they used to be, but painting a duck neon yellow won't stop it from quacking.

WATCH | The music video for Algorithm from Muse's new album

Theme-wise Muse have once again created the same kind of soundtrack album for Orwell's 1984 that they've been making since 2009's Resistance.

A decade ago it sounded like they actually believed it, now it just sounds like rich parents trying to show off their struggle credentials by reading you the university protest poetry they wrote to impress the opposite sex.