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N*E*R*D - In Search Of...

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Artist: N*E*R*D

Album: In Search Of...

Label: Virgin

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

N*E*R*D, which stands for No-one Ever Really Dies, is the side project of the Neptunes, the pop-hop production dream team of the moment. With production credits on albums by everyone from Mystikal and Jay-Z to Janet Jackson and No Doubt, the Neptunes have established their eclectic sound as the genre-blending crossover bubble-gum pop music of the future-present. Though steeped in hip-hop roots, and most often cited as hip-hop producers, the Neptunes, like last year’s “exciting” producer du jour Swizz Beatz, tend to stay away from sampling, long the mainstay of hip-hop production. Rather, they often bring in live instrumentation (as opposed to Swizz Beatz’s inane Casio blips and beeps), which has given their tracks the crossover appeal that has made them so hot, primarily in clubs as dance music.

The production on the N*E*R*D album follows closely in this tradition. There are more power-chord guitar riffs on display through the first few songs than a Metallica concert, but they are incorporated into songs that scream “dance!” more than anything about a Sandman. In fact, the first three songs of the album “Lap Dance,” “Things Are Getting Better,” and “Brain” are downright fun to listen to. They blend a sort of techno franticness with those power-chords to make a type of music that makes you want to either be in a club or immediately go to one. The vocals (far from the star of the album) are split between the singing of Pharrell, one of the two Neptunes producers, and the rapping of Shay, a Neptune friend. The lyrics are not quite as spiritually relevant as one might expect from their "deep" acronym, but they keep your head nodding (and ya’ ass shakin’) through the first few songs.

That is, until the fourth track, “Provider.” The song showcases N*E*R*D at (nearly) its most awkward, as it lurches confusedly away from the fun dancehall vibe that made the Neptunes everyone’s new favorite producers, and that made the first three tracks party music at its mindless best. The album never recovers. It makes one wish someone had been there when they decided that their album had to be something more than club tracks to remind them that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t try to fix it. There are other tracks on the album that are worth listening to, but the energy that was lost with “Provider” is missing on all of them, and as a result they are all forgettable. What’s worse, the good songs on the second part of the album are interspersed between more quasi-conscientious songs that force the listener to pay attention to just how meaningless the lyrics are, and that bring the weaknesses of the Neptunes’ production (like drums that at times hit about as hard as a Geo Metro) to the forefront. Sadly, the album ends with the worst two songs it has to offer, with the last song, “Stay Together,” being the polar opposite of the first, truly painful to listen to.

The N*E*R*D album isn’t out and out awful, but it seems worse simply because of the potential displayed in the first three tracks. Hopefully some of the energy they show in those first songs can be put into more club-bangers for other artists; or, if they ever make an album on their own again, maybe N*E*R*D will remember to stick with what works.

By Daniel Thomas-Glass

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