Seeing Sounds is beautiful in places, but would be more so if N.E.R.D didn’t make a...
Jack Bennett 2008
Remember when N.E.R.D. seemed like the coolest idea music had ever had? A meeting place for all the brilliant ideas running around in Pharrell Williams' mountainous imagination? All the best bits of rock, soul, electronica and hip hop? The electronic element died a death when their In Search Of… debut flopped and was re-recorded with a full live band. The rest of it came a cropper some time around their second album, Fly Or Die, which did neither, but just revealed the leaden band of Chili Peppers wannabes underneath. It also showed that, while Williams' genius in the studio was unquestioned, when presented with a pen and a blank piece of paper his stream of creativity didn't run quite so deep.
Album three reheats much of what's been before. N.E.R.D – Williams, Neptunes partner Chad Hugo and Shay Haley - are still so much better when they keep their rock influences in check and the riffing on the back burner. Kill Joy sounds like a Queens Of The Stone Age high school band, wasting a brilliant squally bassline and loose percussion on a vocal lacking power or drama, while the proggy Lazer Guns should've been left behind with Williams' childhood Star Wars obsession.
But there are moments when it all comes true and the reality of the 21st century's most gifted polymath letting loose lives up to the on-paper promise. Everyone Nose, which mixes up Dirty South rap with hectic double bass and a song about club babes queuing up for nose candy, works precisely because it's so improbable, as do the mutant Anti Matter and Spaz, whose skittering drums and fizzy chorus just about withstand the onslaught of piledriving rock riffs. Seeing Sounds is beautiful in places, but would be more so if N.E.R.D didn’t make a song and dance out of everything inside their head.