"When I Grow Up," the lead-off single to Doll Domination, the Pussycat Dolls' second effort, is everywhere. It has an irrepressible chorus, a mild scandal (evidently the line "I want to have groupies" sounds like "I want to have boobies." No, it really doesn't, but it's getting them press at least), and funktastic Darkchild beats. It all sounds like a good idea from the start, as it is also the first track of their album, but it's almost entirely too good. It is one of 16 ultra-gimmicky concept songs that read more like an uneven greatest-hits album of soundalike singles.
One outcome of PCD's explosive success is that they have seemed to have completely severed themselves from their burlesque roots. Their debut featured covers of a lost era's classics, "Feeling Good" and "Sway" while at the same time keeping contemporary with "Buttons" with Middle Eastern charm and "Don't Cha" with decidedly whorish flavor. Those rich flourishes have been replaced with Top 40 crunchy drum machines and synth zigs and zags, something only used occasionally in the very pop-friendly PCD album. True, no one expected the Pussycat Dolls to get more Dresden and release a cabaret pop record, but this is a determined change of pace.
One initial issue with the Pussycat Dolls is that they serve a very rich cake. With the auto-tune, bleeps and blips, and hooky lyrics, they tend to sound very much the same. There is not much of a variety to Doll Domination, which on the surface sounds like the pop record Britney Spears had in the bag before going crazy.
"Whatcha Think About That" features Missy Elliot, who even does a namedrop for Katy Perry (seriously?) "kissin' on girls," but doesn't add much to the incessant beat. The last several seconds feature a vocal effect on PCD's lead (uhm, only?) singer Nicole that is a bit much. But that's merely a sample for the main vocal effect for all of "I Hate This Part," a midtempo drum-machine ditty with a naturally strong chorus but even that fades quickly once the next song starts. Since all of these songs are treated with the same respect (not a bad thing), they almost all fade into each other and never quite stick out.
The monotony is broken up uncomfortably by "Out of This Club" by collaborators R. Kelly and Polow da Don but is outshone by "Irreplaceable"/"Hate That I Love You"-esque "Happily Never After." The ballads are pretty, even if like the showstoppers, they don't have lyrics that serve much purpose. "Halo" is very nice too, but the vocals are practically indiscernible (they very well might be saying "boobies" in this one). The Spanish guitar was a nice touch.
The strangest duck of the collection is the electro-new-jack-swing of "In Person," which is entirely too much fun and serves as the album's best piece. It is the one track that seems to have the most soul, and certainly the best vocals.
The rest of the cuts include,
• "Takin' Over the World," which never seems to settle on a steady beat
• "Who's Gonna Love You," which comes off as lazy 80s Janet Jackson
• "Elevator," which you may demand PCD comes clean on and admits it's Rihanna singing
• "Hush Hush," oversung and overwrought but guaranteed to be remixed within an inch of its life
• "Bottle Pop" which is stronger than most, even with a now predictable rap verse from Snoop Dogg (was Busta unavailable?), but it too gets lost in the shuffle.
Perhaps this is one of those albums best experienced on shuffle with 80 others. This may be the definitive iTunes album.
Download These: "In Person," "When I Grow Up," "Happily Never After," "Halo"