The album was called The E.N.D. — short for "the energy never dies." And judging by the visibility it has provided the Black Eyed Peas during the past year, the recording has easily lived up to that credo.
For the majority of 2009, the Los Angeles-bred quartet, already one of hip-hop's most popular crossover acts, commanded the airwaves with a pair of monster hits from the record. First came a blast of beat-crazy electro-pop called Boom Boom Pow. It stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 12 weeks, longer than any other hit single last year — save one. That would be The E.N.D.'s second hit, a bounteous summertime serving of straight-up dance pop titled I Gotta Feeling, that was No. 1 for 14 weeks.
Think of that. One group released two singles in 2009 that stayed at No. 1 on the nation's most prestigious music chart for half of the year.
But here's the wild thing. It wasn't until two weeks ago that the Black Eyed Peas began taking all of that riotous success on the road. There was roughly a month's worth of shows last fall in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. But between now and June, the foursome — Will.i.am, Fergie, Taboo and apl.de.ap — will embark on a huge tour that will play throughout North America (with a stop at Rupp Arena on Wednesday) and Europe.
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So in that respect, The E.N.D. was really the beginning.
"We're just excited that The E.N.D. has become our biggest album to date," said Taboo (born Jaime Luis Gomez) during a phone interview last week. "That's encouraging considering record companies are not as dominant as they used to be and record sales are not as dominant as they used to be. You can't even go into a Sam Goody's or a Tower Records to buy a tangible CD because those places don't exist no more.
"So we just try to stay on top of our game and enjoy every moment in this day and age of music."
For most groups, approaching the construction of an album like The E.N.D. might produce a degree or two of artistic and commercial pressure. After all, the Black Eyed Peas' third and fourth albums, 2003's Elephunk and 2005's Monkey Business, became major international hits, selling a combined total of more than 40 million copies worldwide. They also molded the group's hip-hop groove into more of a multi-cultural dance pop sound.
The diversity you can chalk up to group members' personal roots. Taboo, 34, is of Mexican-American and Native American descent; apl.de.ap (Allan Pineda Lindo), 35, comes from the Philippines; and Fergie (Stacy Ferguson), 34, and Will.i.am (William James Adams Jr.), 34, are California natives. But can a willing combination of cultures settle the nerves when the time arrives to record a follow-up to two multiplatinum albums?
"I think we were all just excited to do something new," Taboo said. "We knew with this album that we were going to have a lot of fun performing these songs onstage. As long as we're happy with them, that's what matters. We're not trying to please critics. We're not trying to please people who don't want to evolve with us."
Now we have the road show — the living E.N.D., if you will. It's more than a concert; it's a full-blown production with a two-story stage, dancers, lasers, pyrotechnics and even a full DJ set by Will.i.am, who will journey to Buster's after the performance at Rupp to man the turntables at an after-party show. Rolling Stone magazine described the Peas' opening-night concert on Feb. 4 in Atlanta as "Buck Rogers meets Vivienne Westwood," who is a British punk/new wave fashion designer.
"This is really a bigger kind of production for us," Taboo said. "In the past, we've relied on a lot of raw energy. It was just us with no bells and whistles. But now we want to bring more of a club environment to the arenas. We want to bring a lot more to the table.
"But what you also see is still a pop group made up of three nationalities coming together as best friends to create music."
As it turned out, the Peas had a nice tour send-off. Four days before the opening, the group picked up Grammy Awards for best pop vocal album and best pop performance by a duo or group (both for I Gotta Feeling) and best short-form music video (for Boom Boom Pow).
Taboo is appreciative of the honors but said the Peas' attention is focused now on making sure the energy, indeed, doesn't die as the band tours two continents during the next four-plus months.
"We looked at the Grammys as an opportunity to be with our families for the last time before we went on tour," Taboo said. "The Grammys were nice. But seeing 20,000 people a night? The reward is that for us. The reward is that, not some monetary trophy or even the accolades of our peers. It's the accolades of our fans that make us happy."