Album of the Week: ‘The Dutchess” by Fergie
Behold! The album that produced everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure song: “Fergalicious.” Released in 2006, “The Dutchess” was Fergie’s solo debut album. This 13-track album experiments with a plethora of musical genres, and covers an array of themes. While songs like “Fergalicious,” “Clumsy,” and “London Bridge” are only skin-deep, this is not the case for the entire album. Rather, the lyrical content on “The Dutchess” touches on tough themes including self-esteem issues, addiction, letting go, and the caveats to fame.
“The Dutchess” was produced almost entirely by Fergie’s fellow Black Eyed Peas member, will.i.am. Fergie is also credited as a co-writer on every song; all of the songs chronicle hurdles she has overcome in her own life. The album is full of personal trauma masked by a facade of bubblegum pop beats. I’ve always considered “The Dutchess” to be a feminist album since it does an excellent job encouraging women to rise from the ash of the problems they are faced with. This is just one of many reasons that this album has always been an important piece of music to me.
When “The Dutchess” hit the charts, it received criticism due to its serious themes being deemed “too strong” for Fergie as an artist. However, Fergie pushed back, asserting that she wished to use “The Dutchess” as a way to tell her story through her art. She refers to the album as an autobiography of sorts. Even so, not all of the songs are about her personal trauma. Many of the tracks have become iconic party tunes.
It is interesting to note that the album opens with two bubblegum pop tunes before transitioning into darker territory with the song: “All That I Got.” After this touching track about low self-esteem; we, the listeners, are presented with another bubblegum pop tune. “The Dutchess” does a sufficient job in breaking up the album by abruptly shifting from songs with heavy topics to the fun pop songs Fergie is known for. This is an excellent tactic to keep listeners engaged!
“The Dutchess” also features a number of A-List artists. John Legend, Lucacris, and will.i.am all appear on track: Legend is featured on “Finally;” Ludacris on “Glamorous;” and will.i.am on “Fergalicious” and “All That I Got.” However, it is not these artists that make the album a polished piece of art. It is Fergie’s solo vocals. Her signature rugged voice makes the stories her songs tell all the more powerful on this album. Fergie’s voice is cathartic in all of the right places on “The Dutchess,” which makes for an emotionally charged listening experience.
There are so many excellent songs on this album that it is nearly impossible to pick a single favorite. Instead, I will name a few. I think that “Voodoo Doll” is the most emotional vocal performance on this album. The song, about Fergie’s struggles with addiction, is upfront and raw with emotion. This is the song that best encapsulates what “The Dutchess” is all about. It is a personal account of trauma and how it has built Fergie into the woman she is today. My favorite bubblegum track is “Glamorous.” It is bubblegum, yet does cover a topic we usually do not hear about in music: the downsides to fame. Fergie further laments by declaring that fame will never change her, and that while she loves her fans, fame is far from what everyone dreams it to be. Finally, my favorite track on the entire album is “Clumsy.” Not a deep song by any means, but a fun one! The heavy beat of this song is a direct and compelling contrast to the sweet nature of the lyrics. I am a sucker for juxtaposition in songs!
While “The Dutchess” is not a perfect album, it is very well composed and produced. It earns four out of five stars in my book! The heart in Fergie’s lyrics is palpable, and the vocal delivery makes this even more touching. Listening to “The Dutchess” is an inspiring experience each and every time.