N.E.R.D – Nothing (Deluxe Edition)

Saturday, 20th November 2010

Louise Gardiner

N.E.R.D.’s much awaited fourth studio album Nothing is a project that has seen as many delays as Pharrell has made clothing changes over the past year. What will please fans, however, is the choice of a deluxe edition of the album with extra bonus tracks. While the group has let slip their rap/rock signature, it has instead embraced the funk aspect of their eclectic style by adding some old school sounds of the 1970s. As an album with a whole host of different themes ranging from ‘feel good’ summer music to unusual songs about war and peace, Nothing has no set tone and in some respects, is as random as ever.

With the departure of their new vocalist Rhea, the album fails to deliver what Pharrell struggles with: natural vocal ability. Although the smoothness of his vocals compliments some of the more successful tracks, his falsetto is blatantly irritating for the most part. While the album displays glimpses of unique creativity, it is somewhat indulgent to say the least. Known for their quirky style and talented pop production, the trio seem to have just fallen short of producing a strong and consistent album that will enable them to aspire to new commercial heights.

The opening track, ‘Party People’ featuring T.I. is an annoyingly formulaic dance groove that is instantly forgettable. Clearly not the strongest of singers, Pharrell’s whispered falsetto on the Daft-Punk produced ‘Hypnotize U’ sounds nothing short of an agonizing struggle for the frontman. The next single, ‘Help Me’ however, is one of the few highlights to feature on the album. With a 1960s rock edge, sensual vocals and dramatic bursts of brass instrumentation makes this Doors-inspired number an instant hit.

Like many of the singles on the album, ‘I’ve seen the light/Inside the clouds’ is a potential grower with its mellow, sax-led jazz smoothness. As the subdued sound continues to consume the philosophical yet bizarre ‘Life as a Fish’, the energy picks up with the sexy and vibrant party anthem ‘Hot-n-Fun’. By far the most outstanding number on the album, this lead single is a catchy collaboration with the Canadian artist Nelly Furtado. With a penetrating baseline, ‘Hot-Fun’ will have you dancing in no time.

Absent from the standard edition, ‘It’s in the Air’ is a bonus track that opens with an explicit attack on the press. Continuing with the politically charged theme of the album, this soundtrack-like single is reminiscent of protest music of the 1960s-1970s era. With a funky vibe, this hip number is much stronger than some of the other singles on the album.

As an album that has the potential to grow on you, N.E.R.D.’s Nothing is a slow burner that will either have you embracing their latest music infusion or make you want to turn back to their much rockier albums. While the album will be a fun outing in funk-land for faithful fans, it might be on the alternative side for general music listeners.


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