It took three years, but Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley have finally done it again. Better known collectively as N.E.R.D. (No-one Ever Really Dies), the trio has dropped another LP full of infectious beats for the fans. If you liked “In Search Of” (2001) and “Fly or Die” (2004), you’ll love much of “Seeing Sounds”. If you weren’t already a fan, however, I’m not sure that this album will fully convert you, as they tend to stick pretty close to their signature funk-rock sound over spacy synth beats. They’re very good at what they do, but it’s not for everyone.
Obviously “Spaz,” fresh from it’s stint as ‘that catchy song from the Zune commercial,’ made the cut, but “Sooner or Later” is the album’s standout track. It begins with a simple piano instrumental, as Pharrell laments about life following a messy breakup. “Sooner or later, it all comes crashing down,” he sings, slowly letting the song build in energy until it culminates in a powerful guitar solo inspired by Jimi Hendrix.
The next track, “Happy,” continues along with similar lyrical content, but on a lighter note. Think Plain White T’s’ “My Only One,” with Pharrell on the hook: “But there’s no need for you now, because I’m free of you now/ I’m happy, Things are lookin good, I feel so alive/ I’m on overdrive/ I’m killing it, I’m killing it.” Not the best lyrics in the world, but the song works. Pharrell’s falsetto has come a long way in the past few years, but his songwriting could use some more work in places.
“Kill Joy” is a perfect example of this. Driven by a feverish Afro-Cuban beat, it’s a song you want to love, but don’t, as you’re not quite sure if Pharrell’s lyrics make sense. Shout out to Shay Haley, however, who delivers a solid performance on percussion not only here, but also throughout the entire album. Still, as with their earlier albums, a few of their songs are either repetitive. I had enough of “Yeah You” within the first thirty seconds. Pharrell, backed by Chad Hugo on the jazzy saxophone hook, croons “You baby!” far too many times than is necessary in four minutes. In short, a few songs could have been cut shorter without the album losing much.
Overall, however, “Seeing Sounds” is a strong continuation of N.E.R.D.’s earlier efforts, and a step in the right direction for the future. With quality beats, catchy hooks and great production values, there is little to complain about here, with the exception of Pharrell’s sometimes hit-or-miss lyrics. If N.E.R.D. can improve this, they will easily take it to the next level.
-Robert Burns, II
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