CD Review of Seeing Sounds by N.E.R.D.
Recommended if you like
Lupe Fiasco, Beastie Boys, Outkast
Label
Star Trak
N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds

Reviewed by Jim Washington

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I
don’t know what Pharrell Williams sees, but obviously he hears things that no one else does. His platinum beats have helped out everyone from Babyface and Britney Spears to Jay-Z and Snoop, but he seems to save his freakiest ideas for side-project/band N.E.R.D. with Virginia Beach buddies Chad Hugo and Shay. (What is it with Hampton Roads, anyway, between Pharrell, Hugo, Timbaland and Missy Elliot? I’ve lived here five years and don’t feel any funkier.)

Anyway, the guy can seemingly create mind-blowing bass lines during a leisurely trip to the toilet, and his sleek looks and effortless cool have made him a favorite of video producers, advertisers and fashion magazines. So why is he singing about women doing coke in the bathroom? Because, like the 800-pound gorilla on the cover of N.E.R.D’s new album Seeing Sounds, he can.

The album starts with a supposedly autobiographical spoken-word bit about Pharrell actually “seeing sounds” in his head, before breaking into a typically slinky bass on “Time for Some Action.” Pharrell has long been slammed as a weak lyricist, and couplets like this don’t help: “You didn’t know I’m a nasty guy? You say you want to flash me, right? You know I’m the only one who can smash you right. Well, all right.” Tres romantic, P. Still, the song showcases the band’s strengths, such as the maddeningly motion-inducing beats and the ability to turn a song on a dime, suddenly bringing in a soaring chorus that sounds dropped in from a Tears for Fears tune.

N.E.R.D.

And, while the lyrics might not bear up under a real hard look, the next song reveals the album’s underlying theme – the perils of star-fucking. Now, not many folks could make a successful single out of guys shouting “All the girls standing in the line for the bathroom” and half-assed puns like “$100 bills, look atchoo” or the title “Everyone Nose.”

And yet it works, and lines like “if you go outside and see the sunrise, you’ll see that all the stars are gone” show a little more thought than you might expect. The album continues along those lines, with standout tracks such as the oddly irresistible stalker anthem “Windows” and the accurately-named “Spaz.” Later on, the guys dip into the sounds of indie and power pop for the stellar “Sooner or Later,” “Happy” and “Love Bomb.” You have to respect the sheer breadth of Pharrell’s musical interests, if nothing else. 

But the real reason N.E.R.D. exists is to make you move your butt, and it works.

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