I was halfway through my third listen to Double Dutchess when decided to pay a visit to Fergie’s Wikipedia page. At the bottom of the article, I found the following statement: “On September 14, 2017, Ferguson and Duhamel announced that they had separated earlier that year.”
I followed the link for that factoid to a joint statement released by Fergie and Josh Duhamel a week before her new album dropped. In it, the former couple spoke warmly about who they are as people and that they’ll always be supportive of each other as they raise their son Axl.
That’s cool. Admirable. Respectful. Responsible – especially when you factor in the young child. Kudos to those two for acting like reasonable adults.
But when I actually started to parse the hyper-emotional and super-relatable lyrics of this 13-track album, I detected a woman who’s both hurting from the emotional trauma of her 8-year marriage ending and excited to enjoy the world again as a single woman.
I found that perspective to be really invigorating, appealing, and empowering. And I was also intrigued by how Fergie mixed over-the-top club-ready swagger with earnest vulnerability.
Something about this whole scenario felt very familiar to me, a combination of:
- Sowing wild oats
- Time for a fresh start
- I’m better without you
- You’re better without me
- I still think I want you back
And then it hit me. Not only is this a breakup record, but Fergie’s Double Dutchess is an EMO BREAKUP RECORD.
As a mopey twenty-something who gorged on acts like The Smiths, Death Cab for Cutie, Dashboard Confessional, Jawbreaker, and Thrice, I immediately connected with the wallowing, angsty paeans and rousing “I’ve gotta move on” anthems Fergie had created. The lyrical themes album are remarkably coherent and cohesive, managing to flow organically between club banger, introspective ballad, and mid-tempo crooner with relative ease.
But before you accuse me of being a hack poptimist looking to score scene points by declaring a major-label release worthy of attention from radio-hating indie kids, let me openly declare the following:
The music (mostly) sucks.
As in, there are 13 songs on Double Dutchess, and I think Fergie trots out about 6 or 7 different genres:
- Club pop
- Traditional R&B
- Acoustic Folk Ballad
- ‘80s Rock Ballad
I’m an unabashed believer in tearing down the walls between genres, but you have to do it with purpose and without sounding like you’re trying too hard. Unfortunately, Fergie comes across as trying WAAAAAAAAAY too hard to show off her overall pop chops and that she still knows what’s happening in the overall pop zeitgeist. But instead of artfully crafted musical alchemy, the listener instead endures aural FOMO, as she culls from Missy Elliot, Nicky Minaj, Pink, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, and Kelly Clarkson with wild abandon.
And that doesn’t even begin to address some of the clunky ways this approach bears fruit.
Here are few choice examples:
1) On “Like It Ain’t Nuttin,” she makes reference to the old adage “Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.),” as well as “dolla dolla bills,” “pulling up the club in the Ghost” (a model of Rolls-Royce), and rolling “up in my Merce coupe” (a reference to a high-end Mercedes-Benz). Oh yeah – she also asked ladies to rub on their titties and boobies. Seriously.
2) “M.I.L.F. $” is a fascinating track, because it’s nowhere NEAR as egregious in its sexual politics as the lyrics penned by male rappers. In fact, she actually sounds quite sexually and financially empowered when she sees people with their meager “milk money” while she brandishes her “M.I.L.F. $.” But when you drop the phrase “on fleek” in 2017, you sound like a Steve Buscemi meme. And I have NO clue what she means with this line:
“Welcome to the dairy
Dutchess love factory.”
3) I’m also not sure what to do with “Enchante (Carine).” Sure, it’s adorable to hear her son’s voice sampled, but the song itself is supremely milquetoast contemporary pop music, complete with the treacly synth sample that sounds like the worst sort of cliched “world” music, a third-rate wannabe Max Martin bass pulse, and unnecessary pop drop.
4) But the absolute worst is “Love is Blind” – 5-1/2 minutes of retrograde reggae that then features Fergie speak-singing in the same sort of Jamaican patois you hear from college students who just heard Bob Marley for the first time. The lyrics themselves were the same sort of “I forgive your infidelity. I love you. Let’s work it out!” sentiments I’ve heard in pop and emo for 20 years, but the super-generic music (complete with dancehall air horn sound effect!) ruined the entire thing.
But guess what?!
There were some redeeming tracks I actually enjoyed. “Hungry” featured Rick Ross, while “You Already Know” featured Nicki Minaj, and both those tunes were passably above-average with good bass lines and energy.
“A Little Work” bursts forth as a redemptive anthem in which Fergie reminds us all that we’re all broken, we all need work, and we’re all worth it. “Just Like You” burned with marked sexual tension, while still managing to be a “get the fuck away from me” song. I especially love verse 2:
“I don’t know if you remember what you did to me (oh)
‘Cause I can’t forget, I see it in my dreams
I believe it ain’t a nightmare, all the shit you put me through (Yeah)
Tried to break me to pieces, it’s a piece of my life that I don’t really need, no.”
As the closing track to an album about how much love can suck in the wrong hands and how much we all deserve to find someone that loves us just as we are, “Love is Pain” is pretty great. When you combine over-the-top guitar solos with lines like “It’s fire we’re playing with, and I’m like a moth attracted to the flame,” you’re reaching righteous Bret Michaels in Poison levels of ‘80s power ballad lighters-in-the-air cheese. And luckily, it works!
To recap, Double Dutchess by Fergie is an album about:
- Moving on
- Terrible Stylistic Choices
I will contend that this could have been a really good record. Fergie easily connects with you through her (mostly) relatable lyrics about the ugly aspects of falling out of love – themes that have found resonance throughout the history of pop music. But by switching genres on a track-by-track basis without really attempting to weave a cohesive sonic whole, I found myself getting distracted and confused by the music, instead of paying attention to what she was saying.
But what do I know – I’ve never been a 40-something female pop star separated from her partner who’s releasing her first album in a decade.