Remake of their debut album. Now with real instruments....
As synth-wielding super-producers for the likes of Britney, Kelis, ODB,
Mary J Blige, No Doubt, Jay-Z et al, Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo go
by the name of The Neptunes. Like fellow Virginians Timbaland and Missy Elliott,
they are also artists in their own right, in which case (and with their
mate Shay Thornton) they call themselves N*E*R*D. Late last summer, they
released the first version of ‘In Search Of…’, but pronounced themselves
unsatisfied with it. Now, with that album deleted (not that the world’s record
shop owners were exactly killed in the rush of eager punters), they’ve released a
totally new version with – shock, horror! – real instruments.
In fact, there’s a whole live band, the unknown Spymob, to augment
The Neptunes’ patent sound – piledriving hip hop beats, Space Invader
pings and overdriven, New Wave basslines. And while it’s always slightly
disappointing to see once future-focused tech-heads retreating to the olde
worlde charms of guitars and drums (see New Order‘s last LP, or the
Pet Shop Boys‘ university tour), Spymob reinvigorate a production style that
was becoming over-familiar. They add bite to the satire of last year’s
minor hit ‘Lap Dance’, thunderous dynamics to the sardonic ‘Rock Star’ and,
in general, greatly aid N*E*R*D‘s ambition to fuse hip hop and Seventies rock.
For ‘In Search Of…’ is an ambitious record. Though Williams and Hugo have
shown themselves to be past masters at flinging out hits so current they’ll
sound dated in six months, ‘In Search Of’ is obviously their bid for posterity
(hence, presumably, their extreme fussiness about getting it right). Lyrically,
it tackles social issues like homelessness (‘Bobby James’) and drug addiction
(‘Provider’) deftly and with care, while even the sex tunes have an impressively
fresh perspective. (“I just wanna tape you all night,” gasps Pharrell on
‘Tape You’ – obviously a record producer’s ultimate compliment.) Then there’s
the poignant utopianism in songs like last year’s flop single ‘Run To The Sun’
and ‘Stay Together’ which has more in common with starry-eyed Sixties pioneers
like Jimi Hendrix or Curtis Mayfield than today’s blingcentric hip hop stars.
And despite the rock, you can still dance to it. ‘Things Are Getting Better’
alternates between springy pop and thrusting funk, ‘Truth Or Dare’ has Kelis
warbling over a massed keyboard and guitar assault and though the shadow
of jazz funk passes over ‘Baby Doll’ and ‘Brain’, N*E*R*D‘s pop sensibilities
remain intact. You may choose to take or leave the cod-philosophy that lends
them their name (it stands for No-one Ever Really Dies). Yet it adds yet
another dimension to what is, fundamentally and brilliantly, a loud and sexy
record that will get you up in the morning.