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Pop Music | RECORD RACK

Fergie is down with dirty

September 17, 2006|Ann Powers;Richard Cromelin;Daryl H. Miller;Eric Ducker;Ben Quinones;Don Heckman

Fergie

"The Duchess"

(will.i.am Music Group/A&M)

* *

REMEMBER when the worst thing a kid could do was love heavy metal? That parental fear has been replaced by the specter of prepubescent Black Eyed Peas fans. A stick-thin grade-schooler singing the booty anthem "My Humps" -- or yelping "London Bridge," the off-color centerpiece of this solo debut from Peas singer Fergie -- has replaced the black-clad stoner in symbolizing pop's degradation of youth. Having invented (really, repopularized) the dirty nursery rhyme, this "positive" hip-hop crew has a lot to answer for.

"The Duchess" (in stores Tuesday), like the Peas' recent Fergiecentric hits, blends self-empowerment with blatant goods-pushing to present sexuality as a competitive sport. "My body stays vicious, I stay up in the gym working on my fitness," Fergie raps with appealing vulgarity. Later, she cries, "Would you love me if I didn't work out?" Don't answer, Romeo. She ain't going natural.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 24, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Fergie album: A review in Sunday's Calendar section of Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie's debut solo album incorrectly gave the title as "The Duchess." It is "The Dutchess."

Inborn grace doesn't factor into Fergie's formula, especially with Peas mastermind will.i.am at the helm. Savvy overstatement is this flourishing producer's game as he reworks the soul classic "Get Ready" for "Here I Come" or electrocutes British retro-pop for the swoony "Velvet."

The reckless song structures are dizzying -- guest Rita Marley is wasted on "Mary Jane Shoes," which begins as funky reggae and inexplicably turns sorta punk -- but the ADHD affect can be fun, like eating a whole box of cookies.

The problem is the Duchess herself. Fergie exudes earthy charm, but can't keep up with the breakneck music. She forces emotion on the slower show-stoppers, and she's all cartoon kitten on the come-ons.

The exceptions are "Clumsy," in which she is specifically instructed to act all goofy and does, and, let's face it, "London Bridge," whose offensiveness (the phrase "me love you long time" must be banned from hip-hop's lexicon) only adds to its train-wreck allure. Shout at the devil, indeed.

Ann Powers

**

Sparkling brightly amid the darkness

Sparklehorse

"Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain"

(Astralwerks)

* * * 1/2

Melancholy has been no stranger to the music of Mark Linkous, a fragile genius whose three previous albums under the Sparklehorse name have made him one of indie rock's most acclaimed auteurs.

But his music has never been so shrouded in sorrow as it is on "Dreamt." Nor, paradoxically, has it ever been as comforting and uplifting. You can file it alongside another notable album about finding light in the darkness, "Electro-Shock Blues" by Eels (whose leader Mark Oliver Everett, like Linkous, hails from Virginia).

Due in stores Tuesday, "Dreamt" marries Linkous' Southern gothic woods-and-mountains imagery to an array of musical settings: searching, Lennon-like hymns, primal rockers, three grand adventures in collaboration with Gnarls Barkley's Danger Mouse. The album ends with a 10-minute instrumental meditation.

It's hard not to hear at least some of "Dreamt" as a reaction to the 2005 murders of Richmond, Va.-based musician Bryan Harvey, his wife and their two daughters. Linkous dedicates the album to them, and the welling emotion of the music and the violence and tenderness in the lyrics brings a rare intensity to the record.

"You can't put your arms around a ghost," he sings in "Some Sweet Day." That's one of several allusions to a spectral world that Linkous powerfully illuminates in his quest to transcend tragedy through surpassing beauty.

-- Richard Cromelin

**

Giving her all to the songs

Audra McDonald

"Build a Bridge" (Nonesuch)

* * 1/2

TO Audra McDonald, each song is a story to be not just told but lived. On "Build a Bridge" (in stores Sept. 26), the actress-concert performer applies this sensibility to pop. Though not just any pop. As she explained when she performed most of these numbers at Walt Disney Concert Hall in January, she was drawn to songs so rich in storytelling that they could have been written for the theater.

To begin, she turns her deliciously husky mezzo-soprano to the five-act drama "God Give Me Strength" by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach. Vulnerability makes her sound tentative at first, but she builds incrementally, then leaps dramatically higher for a final cry to the heavens.

Backed by eloquently spare instrumentation, McDonald conversationally conveys the slap-to-the-forehead self-reproach of John Mayer's "My Stupid Mouth" and soars into the hard-won hope of Jessica Molaskey and Ricky Ian Gordon's "Cradle and All." The push-pull of indecisiveness creates a sense of suspense in Neil Young's letting-go-of-fear tune "My Heart"; quiet confidence is regained in Joe Raposo's "Bein' Green."

The 13 songs are united by a need to connect. Courage is found, chances are taken until, finally, all the old anxieties get washed away in Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today."

Is this is a crossover album? Not likely. But fans probably already have it on preorder.

Daryl H. Miller

**

One more time with enthusiasm

Kasabian

"Empire" (RCA)

* *

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