Well, at least N.E.R.D are having fun.
That’s the main take-home from the return of Pharrell‘s mini-band of merry, trigger-happy men. No_One Ever Really Dies brings with it a sense of insouciance, a host of stars, and the sense that all three members are very much enjoying themselves… even if sometimes we aren’t.
It begins with Lemon, one of those songs that becomes less irritating the more you listen to it – more in the sense of being bludgeoned into submission than actually enjoying it. Fair enough it does enlist Rihanna for a rap turn that deserves applause, but N.E.R.D really kick into gear with the more indie-leaning Deep Down Body Thrust. This is what they’ve always been good at – sensual in a slightly awkward and highly idiosyncratic way, and it’s a wonder what a bit of repeated piano bars can do.
“You’re not the Milky Way, or the centre star,” sings Pharrell on that same song. He could be referring to himself, because it’s that realisation that makes this comeback work. He works in a larger ensemble rather than dominating the show and allows a song like Voila drip with an energy that’s rarely found in collective work this way.
Sometimes it doesn’t work (1000 is awful) but only N.E.R.D could convert lift muzak into something eminently listenable on Don’t Don’t Do It!. That it’s written by Frank Ocean seems an interesting point purely because it seems like it’s a song by a fan, for the fans. And whether it’s the funk-driven and sledgehammer-political ESP or the extended jam-session of the album’s second half, it’s clear that N.E.R.D are where they always are: experimenting with flair and clearly enjoying themselves, with the added bonus that even the biggest cynics will end up coming along for the ride.