wed 25/04/2018

CD: N E R D - No_One Ever Really Dies | reviews, news & interviews

CD: N.E.R.D - No_One Ever Really Dies

CD: N.E.R.D - No_One Ever Really Dies

Pharrell's trio of marauders return firing on all cylinders

N.E.R.D: They've got it licked

In the seven years since N.E.R.D last had an album out, Pharrell Williams’ profile, which was already massive, has achieved some sort of pop supernova. “Happy”, “Get Lucky” and the less loveable “Blurred Lines” have made him a megastar. He now returns with Chad Hugo, his childhood pal and production partner in one of hip hop’s defining production units, The Neptunes, and their reclusive associate Shay Haley. N.E.R.D’s original remit, when they began a decade-and-a-half ago, was to make their own R&B-marinated version of rock, but their fifth album sees raw electronic funk to the fore

A truckload of special guests adds to the sense of occasion. Rihanna kicks things off with opener and first single “Lemon”, a propulsive electro-percussive banger which sets the tone, but the best collaboration is with Kendrick Lamar and M.I.A. on the album’s most exciting track, “Kites”, an Afro-chanting, whooping, bass-built thing, both stark and busy. Elsewhere Gucci Mane and Wale boost the Outkast-style groove of “Voila”, which has a fantastically bizarre steel band mid-section, while, by contrast, Andre 3000 of Outkast drops in on the robotised hammerings of “Rollinem 7’s”.

Even Ed Sheeran doesn’t disgrace himself, with his cameo on closer “Lifting You” only aiding a likeable digital dancehall bubbler that celebrates nightworld hedonism. However, N.E.R.D don’t need guests to thrill, as they prove on the sampledelic electro-rave pulse of “Secret Life of Tigers” and the Prince-flavoured epic “Don’t Don’t Do It”, as well as much else. Lyrically it’s all a bit opaque. Perhaps, for instance, they are opining obliquely on the state of the US on “1000”. But, equally, perhaps not. It doesn’t matter because No_One Ever Really Dies is primarily a sonic, felt experience.

N.E.R.D have moved on from even hints of organic funkiness, such as “Hot-n-Fun” from their last album, replacing it with crunchy, poppy, clubland experimentalism, deeply indebted to hip hop, placing them beside Gorillaz, with a touch of Gnarls Barkley’s more outré output. It’s no bad place to be and the new album is a feisty, exciting creature, full of wriggle and body-movement.

Overleaf: watch the video for "Lemon" by N.E.R.D featuring Rihanna

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