Recordings | February 2018

By Julio C. Reyna, February 2018 Web Exclusive.

Artist: N.E.R.D.

Album: No_One Ever Really Dies

Label: N.E.R.D. Music

With the first release in seven years N.E.R.D. returns with No_One Ever Really Dies and, like most acts in a post-Trump world, we find the group attempting to make a protest record filled with Pharrell’s signature falsetto paired with the band's live instruments, strange beeps and blips. While the content does not quite reach the initial intention, the album gets lost in a long list of features which are ultimately the saving grace.

The lead single and opening track, “Lemon,” features Rihanna, not as a guest vocalist but as a guest rapper. The song shakes with a funky beat that is as infectious as – and can rank among – the best Neptunes work from the early aughts. The clear thing about this track, as soon as Rihanna comes in with her cocky and effortless flow, is that she completely steals the show.

There are times when an album will front load with all the potential singles and then finish off with all filler and that is exactly what takes place here. The second half of the 11-track project sounds like a cut and paste effort of features, hooks and beats. The painfully long “ESP” and “Lightning Fire Magic Prayer” could have had their runtimes cut in half and still conveyed their point. A missed opportunity considering features from both Kendrick Lamar  and M.I.A. is “Kites,” which finds both rappers relegated to the tail end of a track that plays like series of repetitive phrases and chants and a lazy introductory verse from Pharrell.

The disconnect between the intention of the album and what it actually achieves reveals a band that is trying to regain relevance. How can the guy that sings “Happy” now try to bring a similarly bright sonic aesthetic to a track that focuses on police brutality? collectively, it all seems miscalculated.

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