Review : N.E.R.D. - The Best of N.E.R.D.
PitchforkHere we have an odd little artifact, a greatest hits album from a group without a single honest-to-god hit to their name, and one that only includes half of that group's still-short career. N.E.R.D. have released only four albums, and after their second one, they switched labels from Virgin to Interscope. So maybe that's why all of this so-called best-of album only includes stuff from those first two albums and completely ignores their post-2004 existence. So that's pretty weird. But even weirder is the very idea of a N.E.R.D. best-of in the first place. As the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo have had one of the all-time great runs of any pop production team, cranking out dozens of hits for tons of artists across the stylistic spectrum-- usually finding room for their own austere future-funk sensibility in the process. But N.E.R.D. is their vanity project, the one that allows them to push that sensibility toward riskier, proggier areas and removes them, at least in theory, from the pressures of the marketplace. Theoretically then, this is a group that should not have a greatest hits album.
Of course, N.E.R.D. is a way messier project than that suggests, and if these guys didn't care about making hits on their own, they wouldn't have made an awkward car commercial during last year's VMAs. The tracks on Best Of are pop songs that failed in interesting ways, by pushing the Neptunes' Triton click-thuds into punk-rock clatter and spotlighting Pharrell Williams' truly goofy sloganeering. As N.E.R.D., the Neptunes couldn't just make a great strip-club song; they had to force in all these fake-profound lines about how the real strippers are politicians and society. But at its best, this stuff worked anyway because they knew they were being absurd and because they couldn't help but make great pop songs. That strip-club song, "Lapdance", is their first single, Pharrell flexing a slithery Curtis Mayfield falsetto over cowbell-heavy strut-funk while never-seen-again white rapper Lee Harvey drops an endearingly ridiculous guest verse that I still quote when I get drunk enough: "Burnin' a flag, all in the name of white trash!"...full text
ContactmusicThis compilation collects some of the best songs recorded by talented rap-rock trio N.E.R.D.. The key word here is 'some'; only songs from the period they spent signed to Virgin are included, so there's no 'Hypnotise U', no 'Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom)', and nothing from their most recent album, the appropriately titled Nothing. Instead we have to be content with the group's early singles, some of the better tracks from In Search Of... and Fly Or Die, two B-sides, and two remixes. There's very little wrong with most of this material, but anybody who buys The Best Of expecting a comprehensive greatest hits collection will wind up disappointed.
If we leave aside The Best Of's misleading title and underwhelming incompleteness, there's much to admire here. N.E.R.D.'s reputation has taken a few hits over the years, and it's easy to forget now that, at the time of their debut album's release, the group's Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo were two of the pop world's most talked-about producers. As The Neptunes, they worked with A-listers like Snoop Dogg, Kelis, Nelly and Jay-Z, and had a large hand in Ol' Dirty Bastard's tremendous 'Got Your Money'. In the process they honed the skills which helped make In Search Of... a very solid debut album. The most impressive feature of that record is the manner in which it fuses rap and rock without ever sounding either awkward or (with the exception of the odd lyric) clichéd. The Best Of collects many of its more sparkling moments, including the propulsive Kelis vehicle 'Truth Or Dare', and three excellent singles: sweaty, politician-bating funk track 'Lapdance', grinding guitar-hop anthem 'Rock Star', and downbeat, soulful sing-along 'Provider'.
Pharrell, Hugo, and their band mate Shay took a more experimental approach on their second record, Fly Or Die. The Best Of does its best to hide this by excluding some of that record's odder moments, such as the bonkers progressive pop weirdfest 'Wonderful Place'. We are, however, treated to oddball lead single 'She Wants To Move', which features the yelping, panting trio throwing out lines like 'her ass is a spaceship, I want to ride'. It's an entertaining song (so entertaining that it's hard to object to it reappearing later the record, this time given a glammy dance makeover by Justice), but it does highlight a problem many people have with N.E.R.D.: their lyrical treatment of women. While some of the criticism aimed their way is misguided ('Lapdancer' is a song about politicians, not a hymn to lapdancing), there's no doubt that they're pretty keen on objectifying women, and wrapping this up in irony, as they do on 'Brain' - 'Do I really love you/Or do I only love your brain' - doesn't excuse it. If you find this overwhelmingly objectionable, you may well be better off avoiding their music. If you don't, you'll find The Best Of an enjoyable listen; just don't expect anything resembling a, well, Best Of....full text
NmeEven though one suspects that the man himself finds it rather easy, it’s really hard to love Pharrell Williams. He’s like a one-man embodiment of Napoleon syndrome. Despite overwhelming evidence to support the notion that he should quit vocal duties forever, he continues to labour under the delusion that his cochlea-shredding falsetto sounds like anything other than Prince with his scrotum in a vice; and still he raps, despite the fact that he can no more drop a decent couplet than he can shit Fabergé eggs.
He dresses like a teenage skateboarder despite being 37, a look that isn’t even good if you actually ARE a teenage skateboarder. And through it all, he wears a face that, in its shark-eyed blankness, seems to betray an infinity of smugness, as if he’s so wealthy that basic human emotion is beneath him.
Unfortunately, he also makes some of the greatest beats on Earth. Curse you, Williams! On his last solo outing, 2006’s ‘In My Mind’, Pharrell was able to call on the likes of Gwen Stefani, Jamie Cullum, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg and Nelly to help out vocally. The fact that the album was really good proves Pharrell to be the one hip-hop act, more than any other, whose work benefits heavily from a cast of thousands, mainly because it means there’s less of him on it.
But anything N.E.R.D-y thrusts Pharrell to the fore (N.E.R.D average: 2.5 collaborations per album), and so it is again with ‘Nothing’. So it’s strange, not to mention galling, to report that this album is OK – opener ‘Party People’ is a frenetic rush of bouncy synth-funk based around catchy vocal chants that even Pharrell can handle; ‘Perfect Defect’ is urgent and funky, fat with brass and tickled piano; ‘Life As A Fish’ a lovely, lush bit of OutKast-style symphonic oddity; and the closing ‘Hot’N’Fun’ an entirely irresistible romp through pastures old skool.
You can skip ‘Hypnotize U’ and ‘I’ve Seen The Light’ because he’s unleashing that falsetto again, but overall ‘Nothing’ is light on those “Oh God, Pharrell, will you STOP trying to sing in that stupid voice/rap ineptly” moments. Now if he’d just put on a nice smart shirt and some slacks…...full text
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