Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

N.E.R.D’s last studio album was 2010’s Nothing – a brilliant but overlooked album that featured Daft Punk, Nelly Furtado, and some bonus tracks that really should have been on the album proper. Nothing wasn’t as well received as 2008’s Seeing Sounds which was a good but not fantastic album. Each album N.E.R.D has released is usually different from the last. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are never afraid to try new and innovating things. Their first album In Search Of… was released in the UK but the album was released differently in America. Same songs but the group got rid of the instrumentals and brought in Spymob to do session work. The result there is two very different but very much the same versions of the same album.  Both versions are great and very much worth listening to.

Thematically I will compare their newest album No One Ever Really Dies to the group’s second release Fly or Die. I say this because as how different Fly or Die was from In Search Of… is how different No One Ever Really Dies is from Nothing (and perhaps the rest of the band’s catalog). A lot has happened since 2010’s Nothing. Pharrell became a true household name in 2013 with the release of Happy and his Blurred Lines duet with Robin Thicke. The very next year Pharrell was a judge on The Voice and his album G I R L hit #2 on the Billboard 200. Beyond a brief N.E.R.D reunion to contribute three songs to the The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water soundtrack the band was just completely missing. Pharrell would pop up and talk about a new album saying it would be more organic and nature based. I would say that this truly doesn’t describe No One Ever Really Dies.

The new album features a bevy of guest stars including Rihanna, Ed Sheeran, Future, Kendrick Lamar, Gucci Mane, and Andre 3000. I think the guest star list really makes a statement about what the group is trying to do. Let’s bring in one of the hottest female singers of today, one of the biggest male singers of today, one of the hottest rappers of today, and one of the biggest rappers of all time. It tells me right away that they are looking to make a splash with No One Ever Really Dies and (hopefully) surpass what Nothing did in terms of both sales and recognition. It also told me that, when the album came out, I was probably in for something that may sound much more “Pharrell” then “N.E.R.D”. I know that is a weird statement to make and I’m not really sure I want to explain what I mean with that statement. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t.

I ultimately think that the guest stars take away from the album. It isn’t like N.E.R.D hasn’t had guest stars before as they always have had them on each and every album. I think the most effective guest star here is Ed Sheeran who guests on the last track Lifting You. It’s a funky island kind-of song but, because of this and Sheeran’s added vocals, it stands out from the rest of the album. I dig Sheeran though he is way, way, way, way overplayed. Nice to have him here.

The first track is Lemon and guest stars Rihanna but she doesn’t actually sing on this track. She raps. I will say this about her rapping: it is pretty damn good. I was impressed. Her rapping doesn’t take away from the song and the song sounds N.E.R.Dish so it sounds….decent. I find it interesting that Pharrell brought her onboard and was like, “You are known for your voice, so let’s have you not sing.”

The two most N.E.R.D like songs are Deep Down Body Thirst and ESP, though Lightning Fire Magic Prayer can be probably rank up there as well. LFMP is great because it is a pretty dense 7 minute song which really shows the musical ability of the group. NOW as for the rest of the album it still sound N.E.R.Dish but (and there is a but) some of it still sounds like they were outtakes from In My Mind. Again I’ll state that most of the tracks with the guest stars are probably the worst songs on the album. That’s not to say the songs are bad because I find the whole album pretty average. There’s nothing truly bad, there’s just nothing that truly stands out.

I think that each and every release up until No One Ever Really Dies can stand on its own as an outstanding album. The weakest prior to this album, for me, was Fly or Die but that album was still truly great. No One Ever Really Dies is truly a weak album when compared to the past four albums. It is unable to produce anything that stands out. Did a near 7 year break affect the band? Do they even care at this point? Are they making music that they want to listen while hoping their listeners will respond the same way? I think they usually do this and usually it’ll hit for me. This one feels like a swing and a miss. I can listen to it from front to back and come out a bit satisfied. But overall I think I’ll just put on one of the other albums and truly enjoy myself. That’s the rub. As a N.E.R.D album it just can’t stack up against previous albums.

I’m still a N.E.R.D fan but I’m fairly certain that No One Ever Really Dies will get some minimal play from me. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t take the band another 7 years to get another album out. I’d really love this band to go out on a high note. I went back and forth on giving this a C+ or a B- but ultimately I decided…

RATING: B-

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