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Published on December 15th, 2017 | by voxx


N.E.R.D. – No_One Ever Really Dies

Pharrell’s funk-rock adventurers re-animate to face down injustice…

No one ever really dies, but N.E.R.D’s vital signs were fading. Since 2002’s excellent debut In Search Of…, their albums had produced dwindling artistic and commercial returns and, for the last seven years, the funk-rock adventurers had been consumed by their own projects – not least Pharrell Williams, whose ‘Happy’ single turned him into a genuine pop superstar in 2013.

Life comes at you fast, though. One day you feel like a room without a roof, and the next Donald Trump is President. With Williams an outspoken critic of the current US administration, politics have lent N.E.R.D – completed by Chad Hugo and Shay Haley – a new, compelling purpose. Their fifth album surveys an America beset with racial injustice, police brutality and closing borders, and concludes that this is no time to lay back or lie down but instead, as the insistent electro-funk of ‘ESP’ urges, “lean forward” and resist.

No_One Ever Really Dies is a questing, futuristic rallying cry, full of bone-rattling bass, cavernous, machine-tooled drums, hypnotic vocal samples and stellar guests. Reflecting the volatile social landscape, songs morph boldly in pace and shape. ‘Rollinem 7’s’ fuses high-speed doo-wop, woozy techno and a bravura cameo from André 3000, while ‘Don’t Don’t Do It!’ lurches from soft jazz keys and sky’s-the-limit optimism into urgent funk and snarling guitars as Williams picks through incidents of police shootings before Kendrick Lamar arrives for an arresting verse.

It’s serious stuff but there’s as much positivity as despair – particularly in the dubby ‘Lifting You’ – and Williams and Hugo’s unerring ability to transform a few notes into a sharply mesmeric riff laces their most experimental work yet with immediacy. Alive and well, N.E.R.D have come back swinging.

- By Jake White

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