N.E.R.D, No One Ever Really Dies | Album Review
Following a seven-year hiatus, N.E.R.D returns full-throttle on fifth studio album, ‘No One Ever Really Dies.
The return of N.E.R.D seemed to come out of nowhere. N.E.R.D had been out of the picture since 2010 (Nothing) – seven long years. The Pharrell Williams fronted alt-rap-rock-urban collective has always been known for its wild, “left of center” music. No One Ever Really Dies is no different; it’s adventurous to the nth degree.
“The truth will set you free / But first, it’ll piss you off.” Following the introductory statement, Pharrell then proceeds to go crazy, pop-rapping over the up-tempo, frantic backdrop of “Lemon,” the crowning achievement of No One Ever Really Dies. Following the unapologetic verse, he drops the refrain, for lack of a better description. It’s incredibly catchy and as bizarre as everything else. Following another high-flying verse, Pharrell steps aside for the real star of the show, Rihanna, who drops a badass, feisty chorus against a beat and production switch. Although bizarre, there’s nothing sour about “Lemon.”
“Deep Down Body Thurst” has a tough act to follow, but lives up to the challenge. It trades hip-hop for a mix of urban contemporary, pop, and rock styles. The pop-rock element shines on the driving, rhythmic chorus. “Voilá” restores hip-hop, bringing in Gucci Mane and Wale for features. Both rappers play to their strengths, though it’s notable Gucci isn’t backed by trap production on this particular record. “Voilá” isn’t as strong as “Lemon” or “Deep Down Body Thurst,” but certainly jam-packed with its beat/production switches and adventurous sounds.
“Holy shit it’s working!” Indeed, Pharrell, indeed! There’s ample pros regarding “1000.” The production is ‘Neptunian’ to the nth degree: wacky synths, hard beats, and forward-thinking. Williams delivers a nutty verse, led by the aforementioned lyric. He follows up the holiness with an odd chorus, as well as a hard-flexing, guest verse by Future. Later, Shay Haley offers up the bridge, though it should be noted that the sections of “1000” are odd.
“They tell you pull over, tell you get out the car / Don’t do it, don’t-don’t do it.” “Don’t Don’t Do It!” maintains a ‘left of center’ sound, but more notable is its message of social justice. “Don’t Don’t Do It!” was inspired by the shooting of Keith Scott. Williams also cites other examples resulting in the death of black men: “Whoa Ferguson, oh Baltimore / Raleigh, North Carolina / But you know, you’re gonna do it anyway.” Kendrick Lamar drops a thrilling guest verse.
“ESP,” which stands for extrasensory perception, continues to allure with an assortment of spacy synths, quirky vocals, and distinct beats. Does this sound like ‘the sixth sense?’ Definitely. A bit long at five-and-a-half-minutes, it’s thrilling regardless and certainly has an extraterrestrial vibe. The same can be said of the lengthiest record, near-eight-minute, two-part juggernaut, “Lightning Fire Magic Prayer.” Despite duration, like “ESP,” it’s intriguing, with more groove and production switches. The lyrics are distinct as well, with certain moments coming off particularly thoughtful and transcendent.
“Playing fish doesn’t know that it’s wet / Once it swims, it starts drinking, it forgets / Know the fish bowl is your technology / No direction sailing everybody follow me.”
N.E.R.D drops a repetitive banger with the enjoyable, infectious “Rollinem 7’s.” Fittingly, André 3000 drops a guest verse, the final verse of the song. Also, fittingly, it occurs over a rollicking, turned-all-the-way-up backdrop, contrasting earlier production work. The thoughtful, uplifting “Kites” brings Kendrick Lamar back again for another fine feature.
“Every field in Mississippi, every street in California / Know the devil is a liar, it’s the time to be anointed.”
M.I.A. also provides the assist, continuing a message of refusal to allow barriers to hold her (or anybody) back. “I’m letting off kites over barriers.”
“Secret Life of Tigers”
The fun continues on groovy penultimate record, “Secret Life of Tigers.” Although it is fun, “Secret Life of Tigers” also keeps in step with the social and political themes of No One Really Dies. Here, Pharrell Williams and Shay Haley reference the dichotomy of conservative and progressive – closed-minded and open-minded. Haley drops one of the most notable lines:
“Your parents discriminate with the bathrooms / Do they know these girls are in your room?”
The ubiquitous Ed Sheeran appears on the reggae-tinged closing record, “Lifting You.” His vocal harmonies on the chorus stand out in particular.
How does No One Ever Really Dies stack up? It’s by far the best N.E.R.D album in years, arguably since their critically acclaimed debut, In Search of… Pharrell Williams is naturally more creative and experimental compared to his fine 2014 solo album GIRL. The production kicks some serious ass…so does the material…so does N.E.R.D. Grand Christmas gift by all means.
Gems: “Lemon,” “Deep Down Body Thurst,” “1000,” “Don’t Don’t Do It!” ““Lightning Fire Magic Prayer” & “Kites”
N.E.R.D • No One Ever Really Dies • Columbia • Release: 12.15.17
Photo Credit: Columbia