What on Earth does Pharrell think he’s doing? Maybe that’s the wrong question to ask, though, as NERD gears up for the release of their latest album, No_One Ever Really Dies. Perhaps he left Earth behind a long time ago and he’s just waiting for the rest of us to meet him on whatever faraway planet he’s reached since.
The problem is that here on good old terra firma, the music he’s got his band making is either too far ahead of its time or too invested in making a statement to actually, you know, sound good. A group that used to stand on its own seems to be relying on flashy guest appearances to carry their new, messily tossed together beats and refusal to acknowledge the established tenets of pop songcraft. The clashy, noisily experimental sounds NERD has produced for their first four singles sounds out of place — not just in the modern radio soundscape of slickly produced smooth lines and fusion grooves, but even compared to NERD’s prior musical outings.
For instance, the band’s debut, In Search Of… was an experimental amalgam of their composite production duo The Neptunes’ blippy, technologically-advanced hip-hop and grungy surf rock, but it was equally grounded in both genres with a foot in each and its face toward the future. Songs like “Brain” and “Rockstar” skipped easily between the garage band jamming of backing band Spymob and the sci-fi laser fire synth of Pharrell and Chad Hugo’s groundbreaking production work for Jay-Z and Britney Spears.
By contrast, “Rollinem 7s” and “1000” are full of dissonant sounds, forgoing anything even remotely resembling melody or traditional structure — by design, as admitted by Williams himself — results in a that feel like coming off as sonic seizures instead of songs. They are alarming and as anti-pop as “Bobby James” and “Provider” are the epitome of mass appeal, which begs the question: Who is this for?
Sure, the hyperactive bounce of the aforementioned singles and that of “Lemon” and “Don’t Do It” are great for jumping around to like a crazed grade-schooler on a sugar high, but the average adult probably doesn’t have the kind of energy required to sustain that effort for the full three minutes most of these songs come out to, let alone the combined run of these four plus seven more.