Pop royalty Fergie Ferg is (finally) back with her new album Double Dutchess, and for Fergie fans, it is a sight to behold. It’s been a long time coming, as her fandom has waited a whole 11 years for her second album to drop, which is as long as most of us ’90s kids waited for Toy Story 3. It’s clear, what with the release date being put off time and time again, that Fergie fans are a devoted bunch. However, for the most part, they’re probably the only ones who are going to enjoy this album, me included, and a few of us, I suspect, will be sorely disappointed.
It’s not clear what the aim of the album is, which renders its dynamic confusing, hence why it might not necessarily draw in a new crowd. It’s a comeback, but some of its singles were released or leaked years before the album dropped, subtracting from the drama of its release. It’s an attempt to change her sound and direction, but then, many of the songs seem to be trying to do what hits from her first album have already done. ‘Save It Til Morning’ for example, is clearly trying to emulate the winning acoustic charm, and sensitive lyrics of heartbreak-ballad ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal)’. With this in mind, it could be seen as an homage to or a part 2 to her first album, but then none of the songs on the album as strong as the classic 2000’s hits on The Dutchess, making them disappointing by comparison.
Having taken 11 years to prepare every detail of this album, Fergie could have not included filler tracks that beg you to press the skip button, such as ‘Just Like You’ or ‘A Little Work’, or even the slightly better ‘Life Goes On’ and ‘Tension’ which don’t particularly show off her stunning vocal range, nor do they pump you up; they’re just very dull, beige pop tunes. And Fergie was indisputably never dull. She was always toying with singing, rapping, with genre, and since The Dutchess, has been featured on songs with other artists, on which she sounds totally different to what she’s done before. Take the dynamic chorus to David Guetta’s electro-house anthem ‘Gettin’ Over You’ for example, that’s so full of soul. Or check out the very impressive duet she did with Slash, ‘Beautiful Dangerous’ which proved her stunning ability to master a powerhouse rock song too. Exploring either one of these musical avenues would have been more adventurous than producing the aforementioned songs, and would likely prove more interesting for fans both new and old.
That being said, the heated, and intense Fergie-bashing the internet’s been spewing up seems to be less about her music, or even Fergie as an artist, and is completely unwarranted regardless of the artist in question. The Times’ Will Hodgkinson claims that in releasing Double Dutchess, Fergie is “losing her dignity in various age-inappropriate ways”, and claims the tracks are what you expect of a 21-year-old in 1997, not a 42-year-old in 2017. He also then bashes her for being sexually aggressive in ‘M.I.L.F. $’ and reckons that her look in its music video could lead to her being mistaken for a “surgically enhanced porn star trying to break into pop”. PressPlayOk’s review asked, “Whose dad asked for a Fergie album?” and concluded that Fergie “sounds like a parent doing karaoke”. The well-mannered reviewer goes on to advise her to “spend a lot more of that MILF money for any kids and relatives that might need therapy after this embarrassment”. Other critics also take issue with what Hodgkinson calls her “bratty hip-hop boasts”, and brand her cringy and irrelevant.
That last criticism I can at least partially understand when she utters the phrase “on fleek” in ‘M.I.L.F. $’ – that phrase should never come out of the mouth of anyone who is not either 13, or a Kardashian. But “on fleek” aside, these comments are ageist and appalling. The critics at hand actually give us no sense of whether they would have liked the album had the singer been a hip and happening 21-year-old, all we know is they’re put off on the grounds that she’s not. They expect Fergie, whose tongue in cheek lyrics were so loved by fans on tracks like ‘My Humps’ and ‘Fergalicious’, to dump her fun, fierce sexuality that first brought her success, and prefer for her to fade into demurity with age. ‘M.I.L.F. $’ is bad song – granted. The fact that it’s so repetitive and lyrically cringy in places, together with its over-produced beat, makes it, indeed, very irritating. Not to mention it features all sorts of strange moments that don’t seem to fit with the rest of the song’s flow, like the bridge which is belted as if it were one of Christina Aguilera’s worse songs, climaxing in the line “Motherfucker I’m ill”, or when she shouts “Lemme see you Milfshake” aggressively in the background during the breakdown. But the song is all about, as the title would suggest, the sex appeal of mothers, of middle-aged women. Fergie celebrates this through the inclusion of famous celebrity mothers like Kim K, Chrissy Teigen and Ciara in the song’s vibrant, energetic music video that oozes sex with milk fetish baths, perhaps feeling inspired by that one scene from Polanski’s Bitter Moon. Clearly, women being allowed to be sexy, even overtly sexy despite them popping out a baby or two along the way is a message these reviewers can afford to take note of.
Fergie has always been unapologetically sexual, and to great reviews. But having even successfully met the ridiculous criteria of try your best to look 29 while being 40 that showbiz demands of its women, she’s then still told off for trying to be sexy. This, despite the fact she’s killing it, and not just body-wise. Fergie described Double Dutchess as “a visual experience” in a trailer released prior to the album’s release, and in an interview on the Zach Sang Show she says she wanted it to be both “ear candy” and “eye candy”. The latter of her aims was achieved very successfully, as Fergie has released music videos for almost all the songs on the album which are creative, beautiful, and differ from one another vastly stylistically. She’s never so drastically toyed with her image before and her fans are bound to appreciate the effort she’s put into the visual aspect of her album. After all, this aspect of her art is truly polished and done with care.
As for the “ear candy” she wanted to provide, though the album isn’t an overall triumph by a long shot, there’s some good stuff on here; it certainly doesn’t deserve the unblinking, total dismissal it’s been given. The highlights of the album include the fiery ‘Love is Pain’, which she passionately performed in tribute to Prince at the Rock In Rio Lisboa festival in 2016. Her delivery really is visceral on this track, as having described her hurt in the verses, the singer wishes the same pain inflicted on her to be felt, and understood by the lover that hurt her in the chorus: “One day when you wake up missing me / I hope you go insane / Cause pain is love and love is pain”.
Then there’s ‘You Already Know’ which samples tracks by Lyn Collins and Big Daddy Kane, and puts them to work on a 90’s house music track to pleasant effect; the song is catchy and fun. Fergie even manages to out-rap Nicki Minaj who’s featured on the track, and the two work so well together with their Boss Bitch attitudes.
‘Hungry’, the album’s opening track which features Rick Ross, is also not only a step in the right direction, but a step in a new direction, as Fergie experiments with darker, more sinister samples, and uses Dead Can Dance’s haunting ‘Dawn of the Iconoclast’ for this track. This sound, paired with her sensual vocals, declaring herself to be “hungry” and “ambitious” as opposed to tired or “thirsty” is hypnotic; no joke, this is fire for background music to a hardcore gym workout. ‘Enchante’ which features her young son Axl Jack in its intro is another more experimental song that’s pleasantly relaxing, but it’s impact is not half as impressive as that of ‘Hungry’. It’s the ‘L.A. Love’ to her ‘You Already Know’.
Lastly, ‘Like It Ain’t Nuttin’ which has been put down due to its lyrics which brag of Fergie’s wealth and popularity at the club, is very catchy and well put together. It’s a tribute to hip-hop classics, sampling the likes of Salt N’ Peppa, Schoolly D, and Audio Two, as well as quoting Pharoahe Monch infamous ‘Simon Says’ lyric as “Girlies, rub on your titties (yeah!) / Fuck it, I said rub on your titties” becomes “Ladies, rub on your pretties / Yeah, I said it, rub on your pretties”. She takes the old, melds it with the new, and makes it accessible to a younger generation of hip-hop fans. Her interjections in which she sings some of her bars back to herself in the background are really neat, as is the ominous piano that underscores the song. The verses are far better than the chorus though – I could have used about six fewer “Like-It’s-Ain’t-Nuttin[s]”.
As for the haters, Fergie’s allowed to brag – don’t be mad at it. Not just because every hip-hop artist does, but because we love Fergie for serving us the duality she discussed in promotional interviews to Double Dutchess. She can do the sweet, emotional, moving, vocally challenging “serious” songs, but she can also turn a party like it ain’t nuttin with her gnarly voiced bars that exude confidence and attitude, all the while maintaining an air of not taking oneself too seriously. This what secures her status as both a hip-hop and a pop icon.
So, enjoy the Double Dutchess! Or if you don’t, know that it means “nada, not a damn thing” to this timeless queen.
Words by Clio Takas