Considering how talented the trio that make up N.E.R.D are (Chad Hugo, Shay Haley and Pharrell Williams) it’s surprising that they’re not a huge deal on the current music scene. Especially when you consider than no-one blends rock, hip hop and funk like they do.
Nothing is only their fourth studio album, but it oozes quality from every audible pore. They’ve poured so many musical styles into it that it’s one helluva musical milkshake.
It’s amazing how many bands fall at the first hurdle; the opening track should be one of your strongest, laying down exactly what the band are about and have to offer. ‘Party People’ does just that. It’s an infectious piece of dance pop that does more than just nod to the late King of Pop and his disco legacy. It also has a great horn section which thankfully crops up on a few other tracks too.
Within seconds of ‘Hypnotize U’ starting, it’s difficult to take it that seriously. It’s made worse by the machine gun lyrics “touchitgirltouchitgirltouchitgirluh”; the whole thing sounds like a parody delivered with the mocking sincerity of a Flight of the Conchords track. If N.E.R.D are parodying New Zealand’s fourth biggest folk band then it’s a stroke of genius – we doubt that’s the case somehow. But despite its silliness, and the fact that sounds remarkably like ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince, it still manages to be a little on the awesome side.
Another aspect to the album is the influence of music from the seventies. ‘Help Me’ sounds as if it’s been travelling to that particular decade back and forth in a DeLorean, and bringing back some of its musical goodness. And it works to great effect.
Then there’s ‘Victory’. We’re not entirely sure who the big Queen fan is within the band, but this is vintage Freddie Mercury material, albeit laced with a hint of Stevie Wonder.
And then the funk returns with ‘Perfect Defect’ and those delicious horns. It’s a track that not only has a lot going on, but it’s also got ‘it’ going on, and you can ask more from a song than that.
Just for a change, they tap into a soulful side for ‘I’ve Seen the Light’; again it has a seventies disco vibe going on, but with added depth.
‘Nothing on You’ is a trademark effort that is so N.E.R.D; it has that energy, breathy lyrics and some rapping thrown into the mix. Oh and a beat to die for.
Proving how supremely confident they are, they put their first single release ‘Hot N’ Fun’, featuring Nelly Furtado, right at the end of the album. And why not end on a high?
Although the album is awash with different influences and styles, the trio know high to pull them all together in the mix, wrapped up in a top-notch production.
This is a supremely polished affair, that may well not catapult them to a greater realm of greatness, but really ought to. And if you’ve never heard a N.E.R.D album, then you really can’t go wrong with Nothing.