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The chances are that you haven't heard of N*E*R*D. Or, that is, you think you haven't. But if you've heard any chart music in the last 3 years I'd be willing to stake my life on the fact that you've heard the work of N*E*R*D- they've produced songs by Britney, Mystikal, No Doubt, Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z... the list seems endless! N*E*R*D is the collective name of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams (also known as The Neptunes) and Shay Thornton and with their distinctive funky beats they've come out from behind the mask of uber-producers to front their own group, No-one Ever Really Dies.
The rap-rock fusion can be traced back to the collaboration of Run DMC and Aerosmith with Walk this Way and it's really taken off in recent years with the rise of rap-metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. But N*E*R*D have a far more eclectic sound and diverse appeal than trendy nu-metal bands, blending funky bass lines with hip-hop beats and crunching guitar riffs to create an album that is a genuine example of genre blending rather than simply an allusion to other styles.
The opening track confirms their status as Kings of the dancefloor fillers, crashing in with thundering sleazy guitar chords and a throbbing bass. 'Lapdance' tackles social commentary with a critique of politicians, comparing them to dancers in a strip club. The social commentary continues in 'Provider', describing the life of a drug-dealing family man, while 'Rock Star' questions the skills of the numerous rap-metal bands which have become so trendy recently. 'Things are getting better' has a real Stevie Wonder groove to it and 'Truth or Dare' features Kelis and emulates the sleazy, sexual tone of 'Lapdance' with a very similar throbbing bass-line beneath Kelis' orgasmic cries of 'yeah'. The reason for the Parental Advisory label becomes clear with 'Tape You', about propositioning a girlfriend about taping her engaging in lesbian sex, and 'Brain' which plays on sexual slang metaphors. One of the biggest treats on the album is the closing track, a thundering remix of 'Rock Star' which blasts through your speakers in a dance/rock/hip-hop fury.
Pharrell Williams voice has the perfect quality to accompany the energetic beats, with a great falsetto (it's clear where Justin got his influence from for Justified!). However, by the end of the album Pharrell's voice seems a little thin and lacking any kind of real commitment to what he's singing about- none of the love songs convey any sense that he's actually in love- and the album suffers slightly from his samey, laid-back vocal presentation.
Had this album been released a few years ago before The Neptunes' production had saturised the pop charts it would have been positively groundbreaking. In this sense N*E*R*D have been victims of their own success as their sound is no longer as unique as it once would have been.
But the reason why this will never be a truly great album lies in the weakness of the lyrics. Macho, misogynist hip-hop clichés sit unsettlingly alongside trite love songs which have all the emotional depth of a horny 13 year old. I was left almost with the sense that the lyrics were aiming for satirical parody, and at times they are very funny, but the ultimate impression you get from this album is that it is an album without any genuine soul, reflecting the fact that their success has been in producing other artists rather than as artists in their own right.
If you don't like hip-hop but you 'Shake ya ass' to Mystikal, or if you don't like Britney but you loved 'Slave 4 U' then you'll love this album if only for the sexy funk-filled beats. It's certainly the perfect soundtrack for getting you in the mood to go out. But if you're looking for a lyrically hard hitting hip-hop album you'll probably disappointed.
Currently available from www.cd-wow.com for the bargain price of £8.99 (or look out for it cheaper in sales- I got my copy for £5.99 in the HMV sale!)
"In Search Of..." is the debut album by the Funk Rock/Hip Hop band N*E*R*D (Noone Ever Really Dies). This is their first of three albums and this one came out in 2002, soon after Shay Haley joined the production duo of Pharrell Willaims and Chad Hugo who made up The Neptunes, who up to then had worked closely with Kelis, The Clipse and Jay-Z. The duo had worked with R&B and Hip Hop acts since the mid-nineties to give a futuristic spacey soudn to their work, live no others at the time.
This is the re-issue of the album, and it has all the skits from the original release omitted. It is said that more live instruments are added to this one to make it fit more into the Rock category, although it would still have to be considered 'Alternate'.
This was the breakthrough single from N*E*R*D and it has them come with their well-known Netunes sound, as two of the members of the group come from this production duo. With the synth work which they are known for, they build up a club tune which has them bring in their experimental Funk Rock to what is a tune based in Hip Hop.
2. "Things Are Getting Better"
N*E*R*D get funky with this one as they put in lots of high-tempoed beats into their music here, and with this as the foundations, I thought that I was gogin to get it followed with nice vocals. However you get it accompanied by Pharrell, putting in very little effort with lifeless raps, which at times confusingly turn melodic and are sang.
The synth from "Lapdance" is directly taken from that single, and placed into this one, and I found this rather annoying and prevented me from appreciating what else they were trialling with this piece. Once I managed to get past this, they got even worse with the lyrics and the way that they go about presenting them, it was all off-putting and had little to offer in terms of expectations from the band.
Here is the third single off the album, but I can't recall even hearing it before listening through this album (which is surprising considering it manged to get as high as #20 in the UK singles charts). This is a dreamy tune from the group which makes you fele as though you are floating through the tune. Although I was aware of thier strngth in creating nice atmospheres, I wasn't feeling it all together as the vocals from Pharrell, who goes for R&B for this one (instead of raps), doesn't really make that much sense.
5. "Truth or Dare"
The group go for some more Rock with this tune as they begin with Electronica (which seems o be based upon Hip Hop), before they decide to go for some guitar work. I thought that since I had heard good things which have The Neptunes working with Kelis and The Clipse. However when Pusha T of The Clipse and Kelis come onto this one, it just isn't as exciting as before because N*E*R*D take it too far into their experiementla style, rather than the more traditional stuff which gives them something safe to work with.
6. "Tape You"
I found this to be more in tune with what I expected from this album as N*E*R*D get some proper Neptunes production going on in their beats and so you get lots of synth and little live instruments, its all electronica-based stuff here. I liked the fact that they changed to this, but the tune itslef had very little to it which I can say I enjoyed.
7. "Run To The Sun"
I saw this as a great improvement on the rest of the material up to this point on this album. i'm sure that this has absolutely nothing to do with the vocals here as the lyrics are as strange as they have always been, but the beats are amazing and suit what I have enjoyed in their production with jay-Z, Beenie Man and T.I. around this time as The Neptunes.
8. "Baby Doll"
A lively tune comes here as you get the group coming with some experimental stuff. You here this as they opt for a little Dub in their beats to keep it flowing, but the way they contrast this with Rock means that you are unable to really connect with either aspect of the music. The two don't blend together that well, it seems rather forced.
9. "Am I High"
Once again, you get another decent track by N*E*R*D as they decide to get into Hip Hop stuff, which is built up from Electronic instruments. The title is fitting even if you ignore the lyrics, which is probably for the best as you get them going into some spacey beats which fit in with the original vison of the production duo.
10. "Rock Star"
Although on its original release thought that this was a banger of a tune, with time as this underground banger became more mainstream and it lost its energy. However I have to say that I still enjoy the tune. Here you have the group performer a tune with the typical Neptunes sound, which had been heard in various tracks produced by them, and with this they go for a tune to show how they, unlike expectations are taking on a "Rockstar"persona, strange for a Hip Hop which was considered to be its polar opposite at one point in time. This group set the trend for being "Rockstars" in a Hip Hop setting and this only caught on in about 2007 with acts like the Shop Boyz, Montana Da Mac and Lil' Wayne adopting this too.
11. "Bobby James"
I haven't got a clue who this "Bobby james" is supposed to be, or even if he's supposed to be someone, but Pharrell sings as this person through the tune. As I couldn't work out the lyrics, I was unable to follow it, however I really enjoyed the beat as it was basically the one which they used in Ol' Dirty B*****d's "Got Your Money".
With such amazing production in music which they do for others, I expected a lot more from this album. However I thought that when they attempted to go for too much Rock in their msuic, it just lost its direction and it seemed quite erratic as they go from Rock to Electronica to Hip Hop, and are unable to find nice ways to integrate them without their being clear gaps in the music.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Lapdance - featuring Lee Harvey/Vita
2 Things are getting better
5 Truth or dare - featuring Kelis and Pusha T
6 Tape you
7 Run to the sun
8 Baby doll
9 Am I high - featuring Malice
10 Rock star
11 Bobby James
12 Stay together
13 Rock Star (Nevins Classic Club Blaster)