When Carlos Santana rose from the commercial dead with a little help from his superstar friends and a whole lot of calculation on the part of his label, he gave hope to all legends several decades past their prime. The strategy behind Santana's comeback has been copied by a number of aging stars, most recently venerable Latin musician Sergio Mendes, who hooks up with red-hot Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.I.Am and a rolodex full of Am's famous and talented friends for Timeless.
Mendes and Will.I.Am actually have a great deal in common. Both are proponents of sonic fusion, hopping merrily from genre to genre and sound to sound with little regard for purists. And neither is averse to blatantly chasing album sales and radio play. Many of Mendes' biggest hits were covers of pop songs, while the last two Black Eyed Peas albums consist entirely of commercial jingles masquerading as songs. And though Will.I.Am is best known these days for being an atrocious rapper, garish dresser, and obnoxious celebrity, he's still a gifted multi-instrumentalist and talented producer. Both sides of Will.I.Am's musical personality get a workout on Timeless. He produced the album, and he thankfully only ruins seven of the disc's 15 songs with his terrible rapping. Actually, that's not entirely fair. The surprisingly eloquent anti-war track "Loose Ends" works in spite of his contribution, due to Justin Timberlake's hook and Pharoahe Monch bringing the lyrical heat. So does "Yes, Yes Y'all," thanks to Black Thought and Chali 2Na. But Will.I.Am's inane inducements to party and have fun are thankfully nowhere to be found on the disc's best track, "Please Baby Don't," a lovely, elegant little showcase for John Legend's sophisticated ladies'-man persona.
At its best, Timeless has an airy, effervescent quality, a beguiling smoothness. At its worst, it sounds like a lackluster Will.I.Am solo album that just happens to have Sergio Mendes sitting in on keys. Mendes rose to stateside fame in the '60s by giving mildly adventurous listeners something to listen to once they graduated beyond the kitsch tropicalia of labelmate Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. Kids don't listen much to Alpert or The Tijuana Brass these days, so Mendes' aggressively undemanding comeback seems destined for a long run as pleasant background music in coffeehouses throughout the land.