When N.E.R.D. started as a vanity project for the Neptunes (plus pal Shae) back in 2001, the original conceit was to make genre-bending music that would make rap palatable to rockists and rock palatable to hip-hop heads. In practice, this resulted in a band mixing trite hip-hop vocals with goofy hair-metal riffs, and made for one record that was middling at best (2002’s In Search of…) and one god-awful (2003’s Fly or Die). Seeing Sounds continues this tradition, but to wit, adds a prog-rock sensibility, with ideas popping up and disappearing quickly over the album’s tepid twelve tracks.
Where the band’s last album crashed and burned terribly, the troubles of Seeing Sounds are subtler. Take opening track “Time for Some Action,” for example. It begins with a hokey sketch about a heat wave, becomes a Tone-Loc thumper, and then jumps into a loud, scattershot refrain within two minutes. It’s like the guys in the group all had a different idea for the track and threw it together in the studio with little concern for inner-song cohesion.
Lead single (and album highlight) “Everyone Nose” suffers from the same issue; its bouncy verse-chorus structure is interrupted by a limp ballad centerpiece. It’s frustrating because some of the individual portions of the songs are pretty solid (the middle of “Everyone,” the beginning of “Spaz”) but no idea is allowed to fully flourish before being tossed aside for a new section or melody. It’s no wonder that the chorus of a later track features heavy shout-outs to ADHD.
And considering that genre and melodic randomness hold together the first five tracks, it’s surprising that the latter half of the album is almost entirely composed of awfully terrible ballads. It’s like even the guys in the band got tired of all the turning on a dime and lack of cohesion and melted down. But no offender is worse than “Love Bomb.” Pharrell has always been a sketchy writer (earlier on this album he references the “I’m a little teapot” nursery rhyme), but here he takes the cake. “Don’t need another love song when you the love bomb/ To just blow us away/ To blow the freakin' lights out.” Pharrell shrieks/bellows in his trademark off-tune falsetto voice over a syrupy melody. Keep trying N.E.R.D., you’re not even close to blowing us away here.