Not quite black and white (like little penguins),
This review is from: Seeing Sounds (Audio CD)
Seeing Sounds is N*E*R*D's first release in four years, but it mostly follows on from Fly or Die's medley of musical styles; "Windows" merges The Police with The Knack's "My Sharona", "Spaz" utilises an Indian-style riff and grungy guitars over breakbeat, while "Sooner or Later" uses the piano chords of the Beatles' "Let It Be" and overlays it with Beach Boy harmonies and Steely Dan guitars. On this track, Pharrell Williams - who wrote the majority of the album - comments on the state of the stock market, and elsewhere - when not talking about girls and sex - he gives pictures of troubled people; from the self-aggrandising individuals in "Anti Matter" and "Spaz", respectively, to the stalker in "Yeah You". The latter is the album's crucial cut and evokes the N*E*R*D of old; moog keyboards and acoustic guitar cut over a stalking bassline before synths slide through the refrain. It's a reminder of Williams' knack for irresistible funk grooves, but Chad Hugo's mere contribution on saxophone during the chorus is also indicative of the album's frustrating weakness.
The effervescent quality of the first two albums has given way to a dilettante approach. Gone is the robust, "live" sound that Spymob supplied for In Search Of..., as has the decision from Williams and Hugo to play all the instruments themselves like on Fly or Die. Hence, the careful craftsmanship and similarities to artists such as Stereolab and Jimi Hendrix from previous albums are mostly absent. It's not entirely clear whether this was a conscious decision from the Neptunes; at times, like during the percussive breakdown on "Windows", or the outro on "Sooner or Later", it sounds like musicians are playing away in the studio. On "Kill Joy", however, you can almost picture Williams drafting members of The Hives into the studio to knock out a riff, before adding percussion from his laptop. In fact, the punky "Kill Joy" and pop-rock "Happy" that precedes it are possibly the group's worst efforts to date. Things improve greatly on "You Know What", but even this tune cries out for layered Stevie Wonder-type chord progression a la "Bobby James", from N*E*R*D's debut. Instead, Williams doesn't variate the different parts of the track - except for a terrific mid-track key change - and so while it's engaging, it doesn't excite on the level it could do. With its chugging floor toms, bass drums and synthetic cymbals, the brilliantly anarchic "Anti Matter" would sound even more riotous with a live drum kit. It's a pity Wiliams and Hugo recorded the album in such a way, and it means easy on the ear tunes like "Laugh About It" are also marked by a sense of something lacking, perhaps because they were made on a computer.
There are lovely moments; the ease at which Williams and Shae Haley reel off their frustration at the commercialisation of music ("So much sound like dirt today/Turn on the radio and it make you thirst away") on the breezy "Laser Gun" would shame most rappers, and there's a gorgeous mid-song respite of mariachi horns and orchestral strings on "Love Bomb". Elsewhere, opening tracks "Time For Some Action" and "Everyone Nose" brilliantly combine hook, rap and beat. Seeing Sounds is often fantastic, and it's the closest one could possibly get to an urban-rock album. If only it sounded more consistently like N*E*R*D the band, rather than Williams and his laptop.
KEY TRACKS: Yeah You ; Laser Gun ; Everyone Nose ; Time For Some Action ; Sooner or Later