Pharrell Williams’ hip-hop rock project smoothes out into funk on their fourth record.
N.E.R.D. has always been a strange animal. Pharrell Williams is best known for his spare, spooky hip-hop production but N.E.R.D.’s biggest moments have almost exclusively been the monstrous party rap-rock singles (‘Lapdance’ and ‘Rock Star’ to ‘Spaz’ and ‘Everybody Nose’).
In fact, their previous albums have been an odd blend of butter-smooth funk and that bombastic gear that turns dancefloors into moshpits. In that respect, we could say that Pharrell, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley’s latest effort effectively has no singles.
This was hinted at by the first three tunes that snuck out from Nothing: the creeping throb of ‘Hypnotize U’, the moody sway of ‘Help Me’ and finally the fairly hot and fairly fun Nelly Furtado collaboration ‘Hot N’ Fun’.
‘Hot N’ Fun’ closes this short album and betrays its lyric: “This is stadium music/Fifty thousand at a time”. It’s really not. Nothing is more like a low-key, mesmeric hippie funk album with more sprightly beats.
‘Help Me’s guitar line is ‘70s Southern Rock, the next song ‘Victory’ is a cheesy little '60s pop ditty, ‘Perfect Defect’ is ‘70s club funk, ‘God Bless Us All’ is mostly retro soul and ‘Life As a Fish’ goes even further back.
This would all be perfectly acceptable – a slight revision of the smooth sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s – if it weren’t for Williams’ consistently hackneyed lyrics. We can give his sleazy come-ons and hollow boasts a pass when yelled from the top of a cop car, but overlaid on music of more substance his words continually poke out as clumsy and silly.
The beats and samples and hooks on Nothing are perfectly decent. Still, I feel N.E.R.D. are at their best when they’re belting out drum n’ bass beats or massive guitars, singing about coke-snorting in bathrooms, and being perfectly indecent.