Album Review: N.E.R.D - Seeing Sounds

Despite the massive popularity of The Neptunes as a production team, N.E.R.D. has never quite gotten equivalent mainstream attention. They’re a band that people are generally aware of, but since they don’t fit neatly into any specific genre, listeners don’t get to their records through radio and TV. Rather, they’re often indoctrinated by one of the band’s modest but committed cult fan base. 

The good news is that they don’t really care; Chad and Pharrell do more than well enough making hits for others to subsidize their true passion. Like the previous albums, Seeing Sounds is equal part vanity project and fan service. N.E.R.D. is theoretically a Rock band, but only for lack of a more accurate descriptor - the music references every major American genre dynamically, not just throughout the album, but also within each song. 

While not much on Seeing Sounds is just like it, “Everyone Nose” is a good representative single. It’s Baltimore Club played as art-house Jazz fronted by a pair of MCs that sing in a Punk band on the weekend. “Sooner or Later” is a polar opposite, beginning as a relaxed piano stroll that suddenly explodes into dense, violent Rock vignette.

Elsewhere, “Yeah You” and “You Know What” are smooth and sexy R&B tracks that are the best bridge between N.E.R.D. and The Neptunes. Despite being easily digestible, they still retain the same attention to detail as the more complex works; even throwing in a few classic stray effects as nods to the core audience. 

The weaknesses in Seeing Sounds are those typical for the band and mostly center on the lyricism, especially when Pharrell and Shae try to cram words into melodies and flows that were decided on beforehand. There are also rare moments where a song’s concept is perhaps more ambitious than the final product (“Anti Matter”), resulting in a crowded track tripping over itself. 

If you know a hardcore Neptunes fan, at least once, you’ve probably endured a twitchy-eyed lecture criticizing you for not properly understanding their brilliance. He probably cited some supposedly underappreciated N.E.R.D. track as proof, and if you were lucky, you managed to say something about “Run to the Sun” to get him off your back.

The bad news is that Seeing Sounds will only add to the fanaticism, but the good news is that he’s not completely crazy. If “I’m a Slave 4 U” allows us to have “Spaz,” then The Neptunes had better not quit their day job.