Release Date: Dec 15, 2017
Record label: Columbia
When we last heard from N.E.R.D on 2010's Nothing, Pharrell Williams was already a bona fide cultural icon. From music and film to fashion and television -- there was seemingly nothing the über-talented producer couldn't do. But The Neptunes side project was still up in the air. In 2016, rumors started to circulate that he'd reconnected with his N.E.R.D brethren Chad Hugo and Shay Haley.
I n 2011, Pharrell Williams launched his own liqueur, Pharrell Williams' Qream. Created for "Contemporary women who work hard and want to relax with friends at the end of the day" - "I want them to reward themselves deliciously," Williams offered - it was a disaster. Quite aside from its name, which somehow gave the impression one of the ingredients might be the singer/songwriter/producer's bodily secretions, there was the packaging, which made it look less like a drink than something that your nana might put in her bath.
S elf-titling your fifth album sends a signal. The glad tidings are that No_One Ever Really Dies is not one of those rock fusions NERD have made in the past just to prove how versatile the production duo of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo (and their childhood friend Shae Haley) could be. NERD are not only back, for the first time since 2010's Nothing album, then, but relevant - political, even, in marked contrast to their slinkier incarnations.
Subversive and socially conscious aspects have been threaded throughout N.E.R.D's jocular jams and ornate fantasias since 2001. "Politicians is soundin' like strippers to me," flippant as it was, stood out in their debut single "Lapdance." Later works involved anti-war, anti-bullying, and pro-conservation messages obscured by indiscriminate musical whims. NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES, the first N.E.R.D album in seven years -- and first material since duly nutty contributions to The SpongeBob Movie -- turns it up, fueled almost exclusively by societal turbulence as experienced and observed by Pharrell Williams.
N.E.R.D returning in 2017 is an interesting prospect in itself. Surely, Tyler, the Creator is celebrating, and during Odd Future's peak of popularity, Pharrell cashing in on the goodwill being thrown his way would hardly have been surprising. Post-'Happy', however, it's less expected. The man clearly doesn't need N.E.R.D in any sense of the word, in demand and on top, and could easily have gone the rest of his career without digging the beloved 'group' back out of the drawer.
N.E.R.D.'s main connection to actual nerds is that they promised parties they couldn't deliver. In 2002, the rocked-up redo of their Europe-only debut In Search Of… amassed rave reviews just as the guard was changing in rap criticism towards a less rockist focal point. Today, the album's hardly looked upon with rose-tinted lenses, despite a preponderance of horny rap-rock bangers that actually seemed to enjoy themselves among the rampant objectification.
In the early '00s, while his career as a pop hitmaker was taking off, Pharrell Williams invented his side project N.E.R.D, with Chad Hugo and Shay Haley, as a dumping ground for his most off-kilter impulses - scrambling everything from funk rock to hallucinatory soul to prog-rock. If their records sounded like a hodgepodge, that wasn't a drawback. It was the whole liberating point.
In 1978, the science fiction author Douglas Adams was trying to dream up a kind of interstellar Long Island Iced Tea--a drink that could get all the alien races of the universe equally trashed. He called his concoction the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, and in his radio series Hitchhiker's Guide to ….
Saturated to the point of explosion, ‘No_one Ever Really Dies’ is a fitting title for N.E.R.D’s return. Switching frantically between multiple jarring beats and numerous drastic tempo changes into every song - each as bizarre as the last - each diversion quickly finds its way back ….
Regardless of whether anyone needed to hear this record, certainly no one needed to make it. It was famously documented in 2003 that, at one point, 43 percent of songs on U.S. radio (and 20 percent in the UK) were Neptunes-produced; the team of Pharrell Williams and Hugo Chavez were having to stagger releases, essentially to stop all their own songs competing against each other in the charts.
Not many albums could survive Ed Sheeran performing reggae, but Pharrell Williams always took chances -- not all of them successful -- in N.E.R.D. Despite the Sheeran gaffe, "No One Ever Really Dies" (Columbia), the band's first album in seven years, is a typically diverse, trippy ride from the group that established Williams' career as a performer in the early 2000s alongside Chad Hugo and Shay Haley. It's unclear how big a role his sidekicks played this time -- Hugo has a co-production credit on one song and Haley is listed as backing vocalist on another track.