Sergio Mendes-Will.i.am collaboration makes sense, because they
represent the commercial potential of fusion music. Crafting a smooth
blend of rich Brazilian rhythms, creamy pop texture and whipped twin
femme vocals, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 hit it big - guess when - in
the mid-'60s with Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada," which single-handedly
raised America's bossa nova craze to a Brazilian fever. Today, the
Black Eyed Peas draw from the well of contemporary hip niche to infuse
their popcoctions such as the R&Blue-eyed "Where is the Love?" and
the frat-lectro "My Humps." These artists have united seemingly
disparate artistic styles by embodying a common ideal: keep it simple.
a key difference between the two makes this an ill-conceived
partnership: musical vision. While Mendes (and others from his
generation) innovated by bridging culturally linked aesthetics from
Africa and the African diaspora (albeit, draped in exotic, native or
even "jungle" accoutrement) with popular music, Black Eyed Peas flips
pop culture trends. Certainly, the Peas can be commended for vocally uniting the stratified American pop music map at times, a feat that many current musicians accomplish, yet seem blissfully ignorant of. However, like running used grounds back through the coffee maker,
Black Eyed Peas produces music at the lowest common denominator, often
reinforcing cultural misconceptions, such as hip-hop either being the
black ghetto anthem or the vacuous pleasure seeker. The pairing of the
two could only mean one thing: "bossa nova with a beat."
Without missing a beat, Timeless,
Mendes's attempted comeback to the American pop culture spotlight, is a
predictable, oversimplified, boring mess. Bearing little thought, "Mas
Que Nada," "That Heat" (which pulls from Brasil '66's debut LP cut,
"Slow Hot Wind") and the João Donato hit "Bananeira" bounce to Hanging
Tuff Gong riddims or flophouse of hip-hop boom bap. Gifted guests
contribute lovely performances - notably the Maogani Quartet's nimble
fretwork on the Vinicius de Moraes number "Lamento (No Morro)" and Jill
Scott's coos on "Let Me," a song originally recorded on the excellent Sergio Mendes & Brasil '65 LP. But their efforts feel wasted within Will.i.am's sub-par production.
Brazilian MC Marcelo D2's brief verse on "Samba da Bênção" (another
Baden Powell/de Moraes number) mostly serves as a reminder of how the
fusion of Brazilian music and hip-hop has already been accomplished by
others and with far more faculty. In a field where even Eminem makes
better drum sounds, Will comes off amateurish, like a street performer
Dr. Dre - or maybe it's Dr. Nick?
Worse is that the Black Eyes Peas stamp reasserts the notion that
Mendes is strictly for middle-aged knuckleheads seeking coolness,
regardless of generation.
cardinal sin is its subordination of the album's supposed star- that is
his name on the cover, right? Had this project been titled Will.i.am Remixes Sergio Mendes and Brings in a Bunch of Big Names to Distract You,
the album would at least honestly reflect its content. Instead, it
plays like a predictable artist-in-spirit-only "tribute." The
suffocating presence of superstar guests such as Black Eyed Peas,
Erykah Badu and Mr. Vegas leaves Mendes with only enough room to vamp
quietly in between phrases or be looped as a reminder: "Hey, this is my
record, too!" He only shines on one cut, another João Donato hit, "Ê, Menina," simply because he is not given the room on any other song.
No matter how talented, this parade of guests also detracts from the album's coherence. Q-Tip turns in a Beats, Rhymes and Life-worthy
verse on "The Frog" and Pharoahe Monch gazes wistfully at the newspaper
on "Loose Ends," but their contributions flow incongruously with John
Legend's Al Jarreau-like turn on "Please Baby Don't" and the
chest-thumping posse cut "Yes, Yes Y'all." Like sampling at its basest,
like the recycled image on the cover (ironic also that the cover is a
spin on one of his most "traditional" records), Timeless treats Mendes as a relic, nothing more a dated sample from the past.