N.E.R.D Gets Weird on Spectacular Comeback Album ‘No One Ever Really Dies’
While Pharrell Williams has been busy dropping fashion collabs, producing smash singles and co-hosting television shows, his founding music venture N.E.R.D has been on the back burner, slowing boiling. Now, the wait is over and seven years later fans can now finally rejoice in a new album. Entitled “No_One Ever Really Dies,” the band’s acronym, Pharrell, guitarist Chad Hugo and percussionist Shae Haley have resurfaced with an absolute banger of an album.
For all those aught-era kids who split their after-market CD player usage between softcore punk-rock/emo bands (Fall Out Boy, Sum 41) and 2000’s rappers (Nelly, Ludacris), N.E.R.D was an ideal compromise between the two. Their breakout single “Lapdance” hit the spot with its live hip-hop beat, buzzing guitars and general teenage revelry. That same playful and downright rainbow of sound that made N.E.R.D a hip-hop staple then have come back in full-force, and more finely tuned than ever before. “Lemon” was the first single the band had dropped in seven years. “The truth will set you free/But first it’ll piss you off,” are the first words we hear from Pharrell. This, before a beautiful mess of beats, claps and bass bounce off the walls. Rihanna sets this track off exactly like she was meant to do, with raw energy and a nasty-woman attitude.
Thematically, “Lemon,” along with much of the rest of the album, touches on the ugliness of our current political and cultural climate. The following track “Deep Down Body Thurst” too reflects the singer’s views, presumably toward our Commander in Chief. “You’re a choke artist man,” he sings along with “It doesn’t matter what you win/If inside you’re lost.” The issue of police violence against African-Americans comes up here as well. Testing Kendrick Lamar’s speed during an intoxicating verse on the same subject can be found on “Don’t Don’t Do It,” a tune which tells the story of Keith Lamont Scott’s tragic death by police shooting in North Carolina.
There’s plenty of positive mania to be found though. Most notably from the spectacularly manic retro-futuristic “Rollinem 7’s.” In what can only be described as a video game score gone mad, this one revives André 3000 in two very distinct verses. Because N.E.R.D have such a distinct, frantic yet bubbly sound, it’s all the more intriguing to see names like André, K-Dot and Rihanna pop up here. Even more titillating is the Kendrick-M.I.A. featured “Kites,” where the two imagine themselves as actual kits soaring over arbitrary borders; all this after an A$AP Rocky intro, just because. Even Ed Sheeran gets in on the action in a completely unexpected reggae-inspired cut (“Lifting You”).
It’s easy to imagine these artists heading into the band’s studio having no idea what to expect. After all, what do you think Gucci Mane’s reaction was to a guitar-heavy drum n’ bass track about magicians (“Voilà”), or Future’s first-thoughts on being a part of the rock n’roll/reggaeton single (“1000”)? The phrase “mad ethnic” comes up time and time again on this album – taken from a viral video where a black man is hanging out amongst a crowd of elder white folks. The point of the video was to say, ‘Yea, we’re super different, and that’s obvious. But our differences don’t mean a thing.’ That’s the ethos Pharrell and his bandmates Hugo and Haley took into the studio. N.E.R.D tossed industry conventions aside and said, ‘Who wants to be a part of something weird?’
“No_One Ever Really Dies” is available Dec. 15 on Apple Music.