I find my sanity where I find my glory

Album Review - N.E.R.D. - In Search of...

Reviewer: Delia True (Los Angeles, CA)
May 31, 2004

Say what you want about Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. They're so hot, they've been cookin' in the fireplace for three years straight. If you just calculate their earnings from producing for the rap-R & B-pop heavy hitters, they're comfortably loaded enough to quit writing songs for others and make their own music. Thankfully, we can still count on the Neptunes' producing credits all over the dance floor, but just as thankfully, we have In Search Of... on standby to be popped into the CD player just when you think you've had your fill of rhymes about being rich, getting laid, and drinking Cristal at the club or on the yacht (and you've already listened to Speakerboxxx so much you're starting to actually like the way you move).

First, the name. Don't be fooled-- these guys aren't real nerds. N.E.R.D. stands for NoOne Ever Really Dies. What's up with that? Do any music critics really have a theory based on N.E.R.D.'s lyrical content and its possibly theological implications of living forever? I'll leave this question open-ended.

Second, the modesty. No glitz, glamour, or pretension. The front cover features what looks like a regular guy, (the non-Neptune N.E.R.D., Shay), slightly open-mouthed, playing video games on his couch. He is a splitting image (if not for the melanin factor, they could be twins) of my ex-boyfriend lost in his own PlayStation fantasy wherein he really is a better skater than Tony Hawk. On the back cover, Pharrell is wearing an AC/DC t-shirt. I'm not saying that AC/DC is modest, just that his entire outfit probably cost 15 dollars. No Blingbling, SeanJohn or RocaWear in sight.

Third, the eclectic variety. The Neptunes are by profession ghostwriters and producers, and they could have easily sawed off the lyrics to each song on this album, auctioned all of them off to recording industry execs, bought a jumbo jet with the proceeds, and flown out to LA to construct the next Britney single, which might as well have been a feminized "Lapdance." But it's better this way. Befitting to its namesake, In Search Of... is an exploration of music genres, each destination more catchy, funky, and sexy than the next...lyrical content bridges gaps between sex, relationships, drug abuse, economic disadvantage, and role-playing. Light partiers beware: this is hard-hitting, honest fusion of hard rock, soul, and immaculate hip-hop production. If you want Nelly, he's waiting for you on the sale rack with his band-aid on his cheek, his redundant, tired rhymes on deck when you make your next trip to the club. If you want surprisingly crazy variety, dare to sample the N.E.R.D. party platter. There's something for everyone...and everyone for something. A rundown:

THE SURVIVAL/DRUG SONGS. Any chance of In Search Of... being an album you can spin at a party is ruined with the depressing, slow-fi "Provider," a half tongue-in-cheek, half dead serious monologue drenched in the oft-referenced rap folklore life option of selling drugs to get by. "Bobby James" paints an intimate portrait of a guy who gets deceptively caught in a sticky web of downward spiral drug abuse. You've heard this sad story a thousand times before, but this time your narrator is treating Bobby like a lost case that deserves none of your hard-earned money. All the chic about heroin is sucked dry in the obit-like chorus, "Hey there mister, gimme some cash. I'm high as hell and I'm ready to blast. I'm just one hit away from being passed out...young and assed out."

THE SEX SONGS. "Brain" ventures unapologetically into sexual territory with driven fervor. It becomes obvious halfway through the song that the "brain" does not refer to smarts...don't kid yourself, girl...no guys really "want" your brain. If you've ever wanted to ease your anxieties about your partner's reluctance to record intimate passion, play "Tape You" on repeat until the unwilling party relents. It provides a very convincing argument in favor of breaking out the camera, unless you've got American Beauty on DVD lying around somewhere. My favorite lyric: "Relax girl, sip some of my Slurpee, you don't have to lie to me."

TOKEN ROMANTIC SONGS. "Run to the Sun" and "Stay Together" get suspect G-ratings but somehow fit in perfectly with the R and X-rated songs.

PARTY ROCK STAR SONGS. "Rock Star" and "Lapdance" can keep a party good and intoxicated.

PSEUDO-UPLIFTING SONG. "Things Are Getting Better" is a misleading confidence booster because the lyrics are constantly unsure about the chorus, but somehow you're convinced that the chances for things actually getting better are about 50/50.

Fourth and lastly, the superior production value. These are the Neptunes. Every song is manufactured. The beats may be stolen, but they're expertly layered with borrowed hooks and a fine selection of ear candy. If this bothers you, remind yourself once again that nothing is uncharted territory anymore. And NoOne Ever Really Dies is no exception.


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