Embarking on a cult classic with their debut, In Search Of…, The Neptunes’ rock-band alias, N*E*R*D, has yet to recapture the success of that first record. Perhaps it’s the ever-changing styles of the Chad and Pharrell, always pushing the envelope to turn the industry on it’s ear, whether producing for Clipse or Madonna. After amazing audiences with their recent Madonna LP, one could only guess what they had in store for the new N*E*R*D album, Seeing Sounds.
Well, we hate to break it to the Madonna fans who loved The Neptunes’ interpretation of what pop music should sound like, and we hate to break it to the In Search Of fans who wanted another extra smedium t-shirt club-dude record, as this is something else entirely. As you might be able to tell from the album’s lead single, “Everybody Nose”, the duo have thrown caution to the wind in regards to producing anything close to what you would expect. Here, the beat packs a heavy cello bassline and horn stabs, perhaps more suited for a 1994 Rakim than, well, all the girls standing in the line for the bathroom. Despite the fact that its a dope single with a great concept behind it (there’s a coke machine in the women’s bathroom at every club, apparently), the single has failed to make any significant impact outside of the cool-people circles.
But that’s fine with N*E*R*D, as they’ve got their hands in everyone else’s pockets. An album like Seeing Sounds is looked at as an offshoot project where they really can allow their creative juices to flow. That being said, we get to see all kinds of sounds on this LP, for better or for worse.
“Windows” is a bit of a catchy, radio friendly contemporary rock song that channels a bit of Lenny Kravitz with Pharrell’s wailing, despite it’s overdone eyes / windows metaphor. They flip the script without warning, diving headfirst into “Anti-Matter”, a strange culmination of sleezy guitars, dirty south bounce, drum & bass rhythms. Here Pharrell’s condescending rhymes mesh perfectly with the rest of the beat, making perhaps one of the albums best tracks. “Spaz” is another curve ball, again utilizing jungle beats and off kilter, NIN-esque guitar licks, complete with trademark N.E.R.D. soft-rock breakdown.
The jazzy “Yeah You” is a humorous rant to the text-happy groupies that won’t leave Pharrell alone; and it works in some capacity despite P’s usual strange language and sentence assembly. “Sooner Or Later” is another piano ballad, in the tradition of last album’s “Maybe”, however comes off as a rehash of that track.
It’s pretty easy to pick up on the group’s influences this time around. The sound of The Police is heard in the droning “Happy”, and later on the discoed-out and better executed “You Know What”. “Killjoy” is a lot of fun, the theme song to the imaginary film of the same name, playing like a deep, early Jamiroquai album cut, with a funky, moving bassline and percussion drums galore.
All in all, Seeing Sounds has it’s moments, but doesn’t play that well as an album. There is definitely a lot of creativity here, and they are pushing the envelope in the sounds they toy with here. However, it’s obvious they don’t care about the outcome of this record, using it is almost an experimentation ground for what kind of styles they can (or cannot) flex on the next Justin Timberlake album. After developing a signature sound on their first record, In Search Of, it’s hard not to yearn for that early sound that they have obviously moved far beyond from. – Pizzo
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