November 11, 2010

Test Spins: N.E.R.D.

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Say what you will about N.E.R.D., but they never fail to entertain. Their third album, Seeing Sounds, was far from perfect, but it housed gems like “Spaz” and “Everybody Nose.” Both songs were loud and messy, but intentionally so. And yet, that calculated reckless abandon is nowhere to be found on the trio’s fourth album, Nothing.

In the time between Seeing Sounds and Nothing, N.E.R.D briefly added a fourth member to their roster. But, when it became apparent that female rapper Rhea wasn’t meshing with the group, she was jettisoned. So was the material N.E.R.D recorded during her tenure, forcing Chad, Shay and Pharrell to return to the drawing board.

The resulting album is something substantially different from the group’s previous efforts. Gone are the hard rock tracks that lined their older albums and the free form hip-hop tracks from their more recent fair. In their place are a series of funk tracks, brass instrument laden numbers and potential party anthems. This would be completely acceptable, except that much of Nothing feels half-baked.

The opening track, “Party People,” more or less sets the tone for the entire album. Though it sports an interesting feature from T.I., the song is little more than Pharrell repeating a chorus for the better part of three minutes. “I’ve Seen the Light” is also extremely chorus heavy, while “God Bless All” relies on beautiful instrumentation to compensate for a lack of lyrics.

As a result of N.E.R.D’s change of genre, Pharrell does more singing than rapping on Nothing. Fortunately, his voice seems much more polished than it did on his ill-fated solo album, In My Mind. On both “Hypnotize U” and “Victory,” Pharrell’s falsetto is crisp. The former also benefits tremendously from top notch production courtesy of Daft Punk.

“Nothing on You,” a straightforward rap track with a groovy guitar riff and a catchy chorus, hints at what the album could’ve been. “People don’t want to think no more, they just want to feel” sings Pharrell in “Hot-n-Fun,” reinforcing what it became.


Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht