Back in 2001 as The Neptunes, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, were about to take over the industry as the hottest Producers in the game, they decided to do something a little different and release an Alternatiev/Rock album under the name of N.E.R.D. which stands for Noone Ever Really Dies. That album “In Search Of…” was first released in Europe and than re-done with all live instruments by band Spymob and released in the US in 2002.
The album still stands as one of my all time favorites, and both versions have their own charms. The European version is a good effort in itself. The material of the album, from the lyrical content to the overall tone are strong enough to work in any format. “In Search Of…” paints the picture of youth in all their contradictions. At one moment they are full of bravado and high libido’s (“Rock Star”, “Brain”) and the next they are full of depression and regret (“Provider”, “Bobby James”).
While the European version works, the US version is perfection. There is something amateur and raw about the live instrumental backing that matches the tone of the songs perfectly. The album is all about angst, wants and needs, and the gritty backing makes the European version seem a littler sterile in comparison. “In Search Of…” succeeds at being a fun yet thought-provoking album that is an excellent listening experience from start to finish.
Grade for European Version: 3 of 5 stars
Grade for US Version: 4.5 of 5 stars
Best: Bobby James, Rock Star, Stay Together
In 2003, after a breakthrough year for The Neptunes the duo decided to release a compilation album in “The Clones”. Featuring the talents of Ludacris, Jay-Z, Kelis, Nelly and a host of other hot artists of the time. I remember being extremely excited for the album and than slightly disappointed once I listened to it. Yes, the album has some amazing production including Snoop Dogg’s “It Blows My Mind”, Roscoe P. Coldchain’s “Hot” and Busta Rhymes’ “Light Yo Ass On Fire”.
For me, the disappointing thing was that the album was so loaded up with Hip Hop and only small glimpses of anything else. At this point The Neptunes had a wide variety of sounds on the radio from Funk (Beyonce, Mystikal) to Pop (Britney Spears, N Sync) to even Rock (No Doubt, Limp Bizkit), and this album didn’t seem to reflect that. The album was enjoyable over all, and the really great songs saved the entire thing, but it just didn’t show what the duo was fully capable of.
Grade: 3.5 of 5
Best: Hot, It Blows My Mind, Frontin’
(Side note: the initial release of the album included a DVD that had one amazing sequence of how Chad Hugo builds their beats. Watch it at 8:40, it blew my mind.)
2004 brought the return of the group in the form of their sophomore effort “Fly or Die”. On this album things are more polished and clean, and the tone is a little more upbeat. The overall feel is the group is paying homage to some of their Classic Rock and Alternative inspirations. Steely Dan, The Beatles, The Stones and a host of other legendary acts’ style can be heard in songs like “A Wonderful Place” and “Maybe”, but there is still a strong Neptunes style that is felt throughout this very fun album.
“Fly or Die” is definitely a worthy follow up to “In Search Of…”. It’s a different sound and its solid overall, plus there are some really Epic songs like my personal favorite N.E.R.D. song “She Wants to Move”, “The Way She Dances” and “Jump”, which all make this album a must-have.
Grade : 4 of 5
Best: She Wants to Move, The Way She Dances, Maybe
In 2006 when Pharrell finally decided to drop a full solo album, I was too excited, and much like “The Clones” I found myself disappointed in the full effort. There were a handful of masterpieces like the EXCELLENT “That Girl”, along with “Number One”, “Baby” and “Young Girl”, but the rest was either too Hip Hop for me or too slow and I never got into the album as much as I felt I should have.
I think the main problem with the album is that Pharrell was trying to prove he could do everything. That he could rap, that he could do a R&B slow jam, that he could Rock it out and that he could be an 80’s styled Pop crooner. It all made the album a little too much and it could have used a little editing. Again, there were those handful of songs that salvaged the album from being a complete let-down.
Grade: 3 of 5
Best: That Girl, Baby, Number One
Pharrell and the Yessirs “Out of My Mind”
Grade: 2.5 of 5
Best: That Girl, Angel, Best Friend
In 2008 Pharrell re-formed N.E.R.D. and released the highly ambitious, unique and hype “Seeing Sounds”. With tracks like “Spaz”, “Everyone Nose” and “Anti Matter” this album gives a bold in your face Rock/Hip Hop sound that definitely stood out and made an impression, and proved that Pharrell and company were as creative and forward thinking as they come.
The only problem with “Sounds” is that the boldness is sometimes too much to take all in one listen. And the album is a little uneven with hyped Rock tracks followed by more mellow rhythmic tracks. It doesn’t flow as well together as it should have, but it’s still a refreshingly different sound and that should be applauded.
Grade : 3.5 of 5
Best: Spaz, Windows, You Know What
2010’s “Nothing” plays like the two entities of Pharrell and Chad meeting up. The album is like The Neptunes meets N.E.R.D. with the danceable and catchy rhythmic bass heavy sound of the Production team and the out-there lyricism and feeling of the Band. The best example of what this album gives is best described on the title of the first single “Hot N Fun”.
Though not their most impressive outing, it definitely bests their previous work in being Fun. “Perfect Defect”, “Party People”, “I Wanna Jam” and a host of other tracks here are undeniable in their catchiness and infectiousness.
It’s not perfect, but it’s perfectly fun.
Grade: 3.5 of 5
Best: Hypnotize U, Perfect Defect, Hot n Fun