Even though they’ve lent their trademark, space-age soundscapes to everyone from Jay-Z to Madonna, and although their musical stamp will be irrevocably imprinted on nearly every genre of music for the better part of this new millennium, Pharrell Williams and his partner Chad Hugo – collectively known as The Neptunes – still hunger for that same respect as legitimate artists in their own right. Perhaps that’s why the title of N.E.R.D‘s debut effort, along with third partner Shay, was titled In Search Of…
Although Skateboard P has taken to the microphone a multitude of times he still does not yet have the same level of reverence he does when behind the boards, at least not par with a certain producer-on-the-mic from the Windy City. As such, listeners can sense that urgency to prove any naysayers otherwise throughout their third opus, Seeing Sounds. Yet while this newfound aggression churns out a number of standout tracks, the same weaknesses that plagued the two predecessors continues to run rampant in the latest outing by N.E.R.D.
After a brief background story explaining the album title, Pharrell and Shay go back and forth waxing, at times juvenile, poetics on the album’s jump off, “Time For Some Action.” It’s the same quasi-rebellious, frat boy demeanor that provides a high-energy, raucous sound set throughout the album, interspersed with a faux mishmash of cross-blending genres, which for the most part works because they’re obviously not being too serious or overbearing. When Pharrell adopts a phony hood rat “accent” on “Anti Matter,” it’s obvious that – in spite of wanting to come across as an artist that produces and not than vice versa – he’s having fun over the pulsating rhythms.
Whereas Fly Or Die was nearly an exclusive foray into hipster-esque alt-rock, Seeing Sounds takes more of a hybrid shape, moving between power ballads, smooth grooves and boom bap throughout each track, some of which combine them all together. “Spaz” starts off with an unassuming rap bass line before it progresses into a head-on collision of power guitars and crashing cymbals, while the lead single, “Everybody Nose (All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom)” bounces all over the place with the skittery, tweaked out drums of a Baltimore club sound, before suddenly dropping out into a smoothed-out interlude where Pharrell tries to catch his breath: “Here’s a towel, wipe your face/Cool down, have a drink it’s on me.”
While most of the album is your standard Neptunes, experimental affair, N.E.R.D. suffers through immature lyrical content and limited subject matter, essentially detracting from the overall experience. Whether it’s reshaping an old nursery rhyme into an arsenal of fraudulent threats in the aforementioned “Spaz,” or Pharrell‘s boring loverman croons on “Yeah You,” the album isn’t exactly a showcase of their metamorphosis into a legitimate act themselves. It also doesn’t help that Skateboard P‘s voice is still grating more often than not, and in the end Seeing Sounds would be much better had an artist with a deeper vocal range performed over the tracks.
Seeing Sounds attempts to do a lot of things, from bridging the gaps between melodious classes to establishing N.E.R.D. as an authentic group. While with its flaws, despite them the album is still a good listen for any and all.