Seeing Sounds

By Miles Marshall Lewis • Jul 13th, 2008 • Category: reviews

So N*E*R*D’s back, flaunting all the appropriate characteristics for the ideal postmodern pop-rock band: an effortless mélange of hiphop, rock, and 80s synth music married to an ironic attitude. The description sounds a lot like Gnarls Barkley (a duo likewise hard to characterize), but N*E*R*D predated that group by four years with their first record, In Search Of… (overrated, but “Rock Star – Poser” and “Lapdance” rocked on). Off the new record Seeing Sounds, the retro-sounding “Windows,” with Motown-like handclaps and “do do do” harmonizing, is the only song that might bring Gnarls Barkley to mind. The rest is far too energetic and futuristic to be anything but pure N*E*R*D. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the jumpy girls with coke joneses playfully satirized on the first single, “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom).”
Lead singer Pharrell Williams is celebrated mainly for his phenomenal talent as a producer; his distinct touch is famously all over most of Madonna’s latest, Hard Candy. This makes sense, because his lack of singing chops sometimes makes N*E*R*D harder to appreciate. Poor vocals weigh down certain songs — “Yeah You,” for example — like an anchor; because of his voice, it’s hard to know if he’s seriously seducing or just fuckin around. N*E*R*D’s lyrics are also trite and secondary to the music. “Everyone Nose” takes coke use as its subject (“cut you open and you’re all white,” Pharrell sings), but most of Seeing Sounds deals with hookups and partying.
Beats redeem the album though. The agitated triphop drumming on “Anti Matter” complements the song’s New Wave guitars nicely, creating a standout. “Kill Joy” uses the old-school Sugarhill Gang-like rhymes of N*E*R*D’s Shay effectively and, like most of Seeing Sounds, the bridge contrasts the original melody sharply. More than anything else, N*E*R*D continues to be a fly storage room for the more experimental sounds that producer Pharrell Williams can’t hawk elsewhere.
Miles Marshall Lewis

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