N.E.R.D. - Seeing Sounds Album Review
According to Pharrell, the previous N.E.R.D. record 'Fly or Die' was intended to be a "kaleidoscope of sounds" but in reality failed to depart from the realm of the kitsch; directing a cursory glance toward their colourful influences but never imparting more than gentle pastiche. Thankfully, 'Seeing Sounds' is such a bold and all-encompassing statement of the N.E.R.D aesthetic that a telescopic lens might not be enough to view this other worldly, inter-planetary sonic wonderment.
The step-up in class is partially explained by the fact that the bubblegum, playground-skit personas that Pharrell and Chad reserve for N.E.R.D. are for the first time merged with elements of their Neptunes production day job - something that the pair had fought hard against in the early part of their career, opting to re-record debut record 'In Search of.', replacing their signature production with the live instruments of power-pop band Spymob. Although the funk guitar riffs and frat boy sensibilities remain, 'Seeing Sounds' augments the live band ethics by providing some much needed Neptunes magic on the drums, bass and guitar.
The full Neptunes stamp is cleverly withheld and just enough is unleashed to tease out the range of instrumentation without swallowing the hyper-active party atmosphere. 'Spaz' is held together by a plucked acoustic guitar loop and restless d 'n' b beat pattern, the effect of which is effortlessly and brilliantly remodelled by shifting synths and some well placed cuts. Pharrell's boyish soul delivery on 'Yeah You' is underpinned to great effect by some delicate double bass and a hypnotizing flamenco-esque hi-hat/shaker rhythm.
Add this to the fact that the songs are simply of a better standard than on previous records and you have a piece of work that finally reconciles the divergent strands that were scattered on previous efforts. The full-on double bass and thunderous drum assault of lead single 'Everybody Nose' seems to have been on the whole dismissed by a rather serious-minded blogosphere, but Neptunes connoisseurs will appreciate the rattling bass drum in the verse and the exquisitely handled rim shots helping along the piano in the breakdown. Those of us who would simply like to dance to it will be unable to stop. The relentless funk of 'Killjoy' rekindles the spirit of Off The Wall-era Quincy Jones and again underlays the playful exterior with some tricky cymbal and cowbell production.
The album is not devoid of filler - the guitar drone of 'Happy' is Janes Addiction-by-numbers and the swirling psychedelia of 'Sooner or Later' works until the point you realise its startling affinity with 'Sowing the Seeds of Love' by Tears for Fears. However these are understandable blips on a record that attempts and by-and-large succeeds in conjuring a self-contained and seductive sonic universe on each separate song.
The crowning glory of 'Seeing Sounds' is the achievement of a rare thing: An album that is both impossible to take seriously and impossible to deny serious praise.