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N.E.R.D. - No_One Ever Really Dies (Album Review)

Wednesday, 20 December 2017 Written by Ben Gallivan

There are three words in the English language that are enough to strike fear into anyone: ‘featuring Ed Sheeran’. Is there nothing that man won’t put his hand to? A matter of weeks after popping up on Taylor Swift’s ‘Reputation’, not to mention drafting Beyoncé in to enliven his own song, Perfect, he’s one of a cavalcade of guest stars on ‘No_One Ever Really Dies’, the comeback album from N.E.R.D..

This stockpiling of star wattage reeks of desperation from a band that, since 2008’s ‘Seeing Sounds’, feels more like a dumping ground for Pharrell Williams’ failed projects rather than a relevant group. So, who else do we have attempting to push this – N.E.R.D.’s first album in a little over seven years – to the fore?

Kendrick Lamar – a man almost single-handedly keeping innovative hip-hop afloat - knocks on the door on more than one occasion, while there are cameos from Outkast’s Andre 3000 and M.I.A. This collection has certainly attracted the big-hitters, but the question is whether or not they’ve managed to do anything interesting with their time.

“Hate! Bad bitches wanna be my bae. Hate! Hunt me down like the C.I.A,” runs the opening salvo of lead single Lemon. About halfway through, though, Rihanna thankfully steps up and partially rescues what could have been a disastrous start. After over half a decade in the musical wilderness, Lemon should have been killer. It struggles to get past filler.

Deep Down Body Thrust follows the same upbeat musical tone of Pharrell’s omnipresent solo hit Happy but, lyrically, it’s just a lazy swipe at Donald Trump, the easiest target of them all. The song gives up on itself just over halfway through, which may be something of a blessing.

Thank the musical gods, then, that Gucci Mane and Wale pop up to lend a hand on Voila!, a catchy tune built around a repeated chant of the title that’s memorable, if not entirely groundbreaking. As the record progresses, a pattern emerges where the guest artists end up being the stars of the show.

Whenever Williams, Hugo or Haley show up the impulse to skip ahead accompanies them. That wasn’t always the case. On their 2002 debut ‘In Search of…’ they utilised the skills of others (with Kelis producing a stellar performance on Truth or Dare) but the lion’s share of excitement was delivered by the band themselves. ‘No_One Ever Really Dies’ sees an almost complete reversal.

That is highlighted at the mid-point of the record: two epic (in terms of time rather than content) and guest-free songs in the form of ESP and Lightning Fire Magic Prayer. They inexplicably run on for longer than they should and take up a quarter of the album’s running time.

After some credible collabs - with Andre 3000 on Rollinem 7’s and Kendrick and M.I.A on Kites - we stumble to Sheeran and Lifting You, a cod-reggae mess so poor that makes the end being nigh a welcome reality. ‘No_One Ever Really Dies’ won’t win the band any new fans and may well be swept under the carpet, much like their last outing.

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