Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, best known as Grammy-winning superproducers The Neptunes, have once again teamed up with longtime friend Shay Haley for a follow-up to N.E.R.D.‘s multi-platinum sophomore record, 2004’s Fly Or Die. This time they’ve set out to get experimental, with weird grooves and interesting arrangements that give the listener a unique, abstract listening experience.
According to Pharrell, the last thing they wanted to do was to fit into their own box. “We don’t care about genres. Why would we?” He said in a recent interview. “For us, it was just about being what we are. We aren’t limited by anything other than our imaginations and what we feel, so why would we make music packaged into a little box?”
Anyway, false pretense aside, the end result is wildly uneven. There’s moments of glory in Seeing Sounds, and the production is beautiful, but like the first two N.E.R.D. albums it’s not something you want to listen to from start to finish. A good percentage of the rhymes are cringeworthy, and don’t do the tracks the justice they deserve. That’s a nice way of saying they ruin the songs completely.
Here’s our track-by-track, first-listen review.
Time For Some Action starts out strong with a tugging bassline and an irresistable groove, but overall it’s an underwhelming start to a hugely anticipated album.
Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom)– How many ways are there to say that this song sucks harder than Heidi Fleiss in her prime? The vocal hook induces blinding rage, and despite being called “jazzy” and “speedy,” the straight verse and rapidfire percussion are the only worthwhile parts of this song. Why was this the first single?
Window– Swagger bordering on cheese-coated corn bounces rapidly between sick groove and stupid. Things aren’t exactly looking promising so far.
Anti-Matter starts with real promise via a throbbing bassline, but ends up being something Ali G would clear the floor with at a club. Breakbeats galore.
Spaz strikes the ear as unique from the first bar, and if you can clear the lyrical hurdles (“I’m a little teapot”? What fuck’s wrong with you, Pharrell?), the complex rhythms make for an interesting ride.
Yeah You– Stalker talk narratives over a smooth 70’s soul bassline, with a jazzy sax interjection that takes the song to a higher level. Unfortunately, there’s a hip-hop breakdown towards the end that’s about as good as a Mike Shinoda freestyle on a Linkin Park track.
Sooner Or Later is gorgeous and elegant, like Smokey Robinson backed by the Four Tops. A simple snare and tambourine beat are the launch pads for an endearing melody and a soaring crescendo with a guitar solo Slash would approve of.
Happy– Have these guys been bingeing on 80’s pop-rock and Weezer? Because that’s exactly what this track sounds like. It’s indefensible.
Kill Joy is a sizzling rapid-fire salsa rock jam that demands you move your body, with an epic breakdown to serve as the icing for what could be the strongest track on the album. But Christ, Pharell, you’ve got the cash to pay somebody to write you some decent lyrics, don’t you?
Love Bomb– This is some Tracy Morgan/Astronaut Jones shit right here. I’ve listened to the first verse three times now, and still can’t stop laughing. Williams channels Seal for the first few words of Don’t need a love song, we need a love bomb to just blow us away… fuck what the government says, we’ve gotta save some life now / is that okay? Jesus. Pass.
You Know What could’ve easily been on Fly Or Die, but the 70’s groove and a magnificent chorus show a slight evolution in the N.E.R.D. sound. A clean, magnetic electric guitar riff carries this one out of the dreaded disco pit, and the first verse locks you in. Well done.
Laugh About It is one of those N.E.R.D. jams that’s perfect for a stoned sunset drive, a smooth radiation emanating through a hook with prominent disco flavors that somehow work and a Knight Rider kind of atmosphere. It’s the perfect high note for Seeing Sounds to end on, riding into a futuristic sunset, looking forward to brighter days.
Available June 10th, 2008
1. Time For Some Action
2. Everyone Nose (All The Girls Standing In Line For The Bathroom)
6. Yeah You
7. Sooner Or Later
9. Kill Joy
10. Love Bomb
11. You Know What
12. Laugh About It
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.