This compilation collects some of the best songs recorded by talented rap-rock trio N.E.R.D.. The key word here is 'some'; only songs from the period they spent signed to Virgin are included, so there's no 'Hypnotise U', no 'Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom)', and nothing from their most recent album, the appropriately titled Nothing. Instead we have to be content with the group's early singles, some of the better tracks from In Search Of... and Fly Or Die, two B-sides, and two remixes. There's very little wrong with most of this material, but anybody who buys The Best Of expecting a comprehensive greatest hits collection will wind up disappointed.
If we leave aside The Best Of's misleading title and underwhelming incompleteness, there's much to admire here. N.E.R.D.'s reputation has taken a few hits over the years, and it's easy to forget now that, at the time of their debut album's release, the group's Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo were two of the pop world's most talked-about producers. As The Neptunes, they worked with A-listers like Snoop Dogg, Kelis, Nelly and Jay-Z, and had a large hand in Ol' Dirty Bastard's tremendous 'Got Your Money'. In the process they honed the skills which helped make In Search Of... a very solid debut album. The most impressive feature of that record is the manner in which it fuses rap and rock without ever sounding either awkward or (with the exception of the odd lyric) clichéd. The Best Of collects many of its more sparkling moments, including the propulsive Kelis vehicle 'Truth Or Dare', and three excellent singles: sweaty, politician-bating funk track 'Lapdance', grinding guitar-hop anthem 'Rock Star', and downbeat, soulful sing-along 'Provider'.
Pharrell, Hugo, and their band mate Shay took a more experimental approach on their second record, Fly Or Die. The Best Of does its best to hide this by excluding some of that record's odder moments, such as the bonkers progressive pop weirdfest 'Wonderful Place'. We are, however, treated to oddball lead single 'She Wants To Move', which features the yelping, panting trio throwing out lines like 'her ass is a spaceship, I want to ride'. It's an entertaining song (so entertaining that it's hard to object to it reappearing later the record, this time given a glammy dance makeover by Justice), but it does highlight a problem many people have with N.E.R.D.: their lyrical treatment of women. While some of the criticism aimed their way is misguided ('Lapdancer' is a song about politicians, not a hymn to lapdancing), there's no doubt that they're pretty keen on objectifying women, and wrapping this up in irony, as they do on 'Brain' - 'Do I really love you/Or do I only love your brain' - doesn't excuse it. If you find this overwhelmingly objectionable, you may well be better off avoiding their music. If you don't, you'll find The Best Of an enjoyable listen; just don't expect anything resembling a, well, Best Of.