No_One Ever Really Dies
It’s been seven years but N.E.R.D is back at last with their first album release since 2010’s Nothing. Since the band’s hiatus, the alternative pop band consisting of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley is more relevant than ever with the rise of Williams as one of the biggest pop stars in the world. After collaborations with Daft Punk on “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke on “Blurred Lines” and, most importantly, his massive solo record, Girl, which spawned his mega-hit, “Happy”, Williams went from being a seasoned songwriter and producer working with a wide cast of some of the pop music industry’s biggest names to becoming one himself. In this sense, the stakes are raised for N.E.R.D’s return with their fifth album, No_One Ever Really Dies; but ultimately, the self-titled album that features Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and André 3000 is a return that feels as triumphant as it does exciting.
Opening with the lead single, “Lemon”, which even before the song starts has Williams- in a plain voice- exclaiming “the truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off”. The song immediately jumps into a bouncing flow and is among the most hip-hop inspired (minus the various guest verses from rappers) tracks on the album. Rather than singing, Rihanna is involved with a rap that is nothing short of badass. The song- her verse in particular- is dripping with attitude and serves as a powerful opening track that grabs all of your attention. The album continues onward with an array of songs that teeter closer to pop with touches of funk and hip-hop giving N.E.R.D a highly unique sound. From the rapid pace of “1000” to the dancehall inspired steel pan on “Voilà”, or the instrumental breakdown on “Don’t Do It!”- in which Lamar raps over- No_One Ever Really Dies remains a highly organic record that flows in a way that feels smooth and natural, despite its unpredictable nature.
The best parts of No_One Ever Really Dies often lie in the roles of the featuring artists. Lamar shines bright on both “Don’t Do It!” and “Kites”, while André 3000 stands beside Rihanna as having one of the most compelling guest spots on the album for his verse on the very alternative and quirky “Rollinem 7’s”. That being said, the song writing across the entire album is some of the most original and interesting when compared to much of the output from some of pop music’s biggest voices. The simple funk groove of “ESP” contrasts well with the sophisticated and jazz influenced “Lightning Fire Magic Prayer” and both serve as examples of the simplistic and complex brilliance behind each song.
No_One Ever Really Dies is a very fun album that challenges nearly all there is about modern pop music. While far and few in between, the album may become a touch too arty/avant-garde for its own good, especially on “Kites”, giving the record brief moments in which it strays from pop into something far more unusual which feels less confident than the rest of the album. That being said, pop music has not felt this experimental and unexpected since Prince and this is at the heart of N.E.R.D’s charm. Much like Outkast in the 2000’s and Kendrick Lamar’s take on hip-hop, No_One Ever Really Dies has the potential to change the course of modern pop music and inspire a wave of influence that will be heard through countless artists for years to come.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: N.E.R.D – NO_ONE EVERY REALLY DIES