When Pharrell, Chad, and Shae stepped on the scene with their debut album, In Search Of…, it was looked at as sort of a vanity project. After all, The Neptunes had the hottest beats money could buy at the time, so for them to do a “rock album” in an era when mash-ups were hot was almost looked at as sort of a gimmick. In fact, the first version of the LP, released overseas, lacked something, so they re-recorded the entire album backed by Spymob, who lent some credibility to the project. The end result was a pop classic, which created legions of fans for The Neptunes’ side project.
While follow-up endeavors found mixed results, fast-forwarding to 2010, N*E*R*D seems to be taking up more of Pharrell and company’s time than producing beats for various rappers, making it anything but a flash in the pan. With Nothing, we find the group at it’s most focused and matured yet, with ridiculously consistent LP that is much more than singing over Neptunes’ beats.
The biggest difference this time around is the group’s departure from making club music. While the lukewarm single, “Hot & Fun”, attempts to pander to the nightlife crowd, selections like “Party People” come off much more natural, as they trade chants with T.I.’s raps over lively horn sections and swanky bass guitars. The same can be said for the sultry “Hypnotize U”, backed by Daft Punk’s 808 bass and Skateboard P’s sleazy lyrics.
The real meat of the album, however, is deeper inside, as they move away from the more beat-oriented sound of their earlier works, with tracks like the bluesy “Help Me” or the Queen-esque “Victory”, where Pharrell does his best Freddie Mercury. The rock-opera that is “Life Of A Fish” also delivers, and is exactly what it sounds like it is.
The beats are still there, however, as tracks like “Perfect Defect” and “Nothing On You” bang with a lovably cheesy 80′s cool. The crown jewel of beats though is “God Bless Us All”, a sort of hypnotic Mexican standoff that ventures off into doo-wop territory; the only thing missing are verses from The Clipse.
All in all, Nothing is a return to form for N*E*R*D, after the group’s pair of albums after In Search Of…. This album does what every fourth album should; shows growth, consistency, reinvention, and doesn’t milk past formulas for success.
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