imeless may be as inevitable as its title, but mislabeling it with Sergio Mendes’ name certainly wasn’t. Record shops of unusual size take note: the album may be credited to Brazilian superstar Sergio Mendes, but the target audience is the highlighted hair in the butterfly hairclips over at the Black Eyed Peas in-store.
will.i.am, commander-in-chief of the Black Eyed Peas has finessed his pop schtick so finely that BEP have become almost indistinguishable from, say, Ashlee Simpson, drawing upon an entire universe of pop musical influences to craft music as simple, subtle, and effective as a crowbar.
But will.i.am, unlike, say, Ashlee Simpson, has ambitions of being something of an artist in his own right. So rather than simply adding bossa nova and samba to BEP’s arsenal of pop tricks, he’s gone directly to the source, casting himself as the producer of Mendes’ latest album.
But despite the Brazilian composer’s grace, Timeless falls awkwardly between Buena Vista Social Club and Santana’s latter-day Rolodex albums, deftly combining multi-culti good intentions with the bathos of a great artist aiming squarely at commercial revival. Mendes’ credit on the album is a case in point: given the paucity of new Mendes’ material and the slick, mirrored-glass production, the album would be better dedicated to Mendes’, and let BEP admit responsibility for the album, as they did for “Sexy,” their first “collaboration” with Mendes on the Be Cool soundtrack.
Mendes is an almost limitless source of slinky, coy hooks for will’s by the numbers hip-pop, mercifully eliminating the need for Fergie, Anastacia’s better behaved twin sister. The affinity between the hip-pop and samba makes for some happy collisions, revealing perhaps Mr. i.am’s greatest strength, as a producer who is hot on the tail of the Neptunes cookie-cutting comet. Mendes’ “Mas Que Nada” is not quite improved by the Pea’s good-natured flow as the rappers gamely match step with the lilted bossa beat. “Fo Hop” emerges hip-hopping and beating a cow bell, grows a dirty guitar riff and marries a lush Bollywood keyboard figure, settling into samba-hop as the song ages.
But even Mendes’ light-as-air compositions begin to compress a bit more than they deserve under the weight of the production and the too-relaxed rapping (the exception is ever-nimble Chali 2na’s guest slot). “Surfboard” sounds like a BEP outtake (are there such things?) John Legend’s “Please Baby Don’t” oozes so much syrup you get to wishing Baby would just hurry up and get it over with.
Personally, I hope Mendes cribbed enough from whatever time he may have spent in the studio with his well-punctuated producer to take the reins himself next time. Timeless refers to the recommended date of use of the album for elevator party-starting everywhere.