Revenge of the N.E.R.D. 

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Revenge of the N.E.R.D.

By Gilbert Garcia

Side projects usually exist as a way for recording artists to blow off creative steam and indulge their weirder preoccupations. Occasionally, by some inexplicable fluke, a side project will sell more records than the mother ship (e.g., Tom Tom Club, Folk Implosion). But rarely does a side project deliver a more fully realized artistic statement than the group it spun off.

At the moment, N.E.R.D. are the most prominent exception to that rule. An offshoot of the wildly successful - and gratingly ubiquitous - production team the Neptunes, N.E.R.D. is simultaneously more rocking and more avant-garde than anything the Neptunes have created under their own name. N.E.R.D.'s 2002 debut album, In Search of ..., was a sonic revelation, a kitchen-sink mishmash of jagged beats, heavy-metal guitars, '70s Moog squiggles, and Pharrell Williams' soft, oddly memorable voice.

The second time around, that sound is inevitably more familiar and less fresh, but Fly or Die might be a more consistent set of songs than N.E.R.D.'s debut. Also, it suggests something new for the band: conceptual vision.

CD Spotlight

Fly or Die


In Search of ... offered no notable theme beyond Williams' horniness. On Fly or Die, Williams' pants remain unzipped and his libido unchecked ("her ass is a spaceship/and I want to ride"), but he and sidekick Chad Hugo tear themselves away from the topless bars long enough to take notice of the world around them. On the driving pop of "Drill Sergeant" (Ben Folds goes hard-rock), they lay down their arms with a vengeance ("you don't understand liberty until someone speaks for yours"). And with the title song and "Jump," a suicidal runaway composes mash notes to his clueless parents.

Over the last three years, Williams and Hugo have whored their sound out so casually (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake) that some people have grown weary of them. But with N.E.R.D., they've taken a played-out concept (hip-hop meets metal) and given it a fresh twist by approaching it from the hip-hop direction. Here's hoping the side project becomes their first priority. •

` By Gilbert Garcia `



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