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N*E*R*D - Fly or Die


Review: Jack Foley

THE vibe surrounding N*E*R*D is one of the coolest doing the rounds in the hip-hop world at the moment, given the high-profile of The Neptunes, as well as Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, in 2003.

Remix specialists, high-profile collaborators, and artists in their own right, N*E*R*D would appear to be the name on everyone's lips since the release of their debut, In Search Of… a couple of years ago.

Album number two, needless to say, carries with it a hopelessly heavy burden of expectation, so it is little wonder to find that it falls someway short of the status you feel it warrants.

Undeniably hip it may be, but the N*E*R*D boys don't really push any envelopes, or come over too cool, which makes things more than a little disappointing.

But once the realisation that this isn't the best hip-hop album the world has ever seen sinks in, there is plenty to enjoy.

Joining the boys this time are the likes of childhood friend, Sheldon ‘Shay’ Haley, as well as Lenny Kravitz, while missing is Minneapolis funk outfit, Spymob.

Hence, the album draws on Brit pop elements, and classic rock rifts, for some of its inspiration, not to mention the soulful, swinging sound of the Seventies, rather than the funk-roots of its predecessor.

The result is a much more eclectic album than In Search Of, which feels a little more accomplished. Almost as though that missing element has been found.

This is borne out in tracks such as Wonderful Place, with its feel-good whistling, and smooth beats, or the driving bassline and laidback acoustic guitar of current single, She Wants to Move.

It is during these moments that N*E*R*D come close to realising the hype surrounding them, and stops attempting to play within other genres.

N*E*R*D, first and foremost, are associated with the hip-hop movement, so it occasionally feels a little off-kilter (dare I say, wrong) to find them delving too deeply into rock.

So whereas singles such as Breakout resonate with a soulful quality, with psychedelic undertones, opening track Don't Worry About It, or title track, Fly Or Die, feel a little awkward and not really something that N*E*R*D should pursue in a hurry.

In fact, the first part of the album, up until the single, is why it feels so disappointing, for this marks a departure from the N*E*R*D sound we were probably anticipating and hoping for.

Only when it returns to more familiar territory, does it find its stride, especially during its middle section.

The themes of the album encompass most of the dilemmas a child witnesses while developing, from bullying, during the track, Thrasher, to rebellion, in the no-nonsense Drill Sergeant, and the awkwardness of first-time love, with Backseat Love.

The lyrics are as frank and explicit as we have come to expect from the team behind such in-yer-face tracks as Lapdance.

And Kravitz guests on Maybe, which delves back into rock, but somehow benefits from the sound of an accomplished guitarist.

Another great track, and surely a future single, is The Way She Dances, which manages to combine The Neptunes' signature hooks with a funky, Studio 54 vibe, that really marks the album at its finest.

If only the whole thing was as consistently cool, and relaxed about things, we may have been talking about a classic. As it is, N*E*R*D's Fly Or Die is merely good.

Track listing:
1. Don't Worry About It
2. Fly Or Die
3. Jump
4. Backseat Love
5. She Wants To Move
6. Breakout
7. Wonderful Place
8. Drill Sargeant
9. Thrasher
10. Maybe
11. The Way She Dance
12. Chariot Of Fire

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