N.E.R.D. makes ‘Nothing’ great

Whether or not you are familiar with the multi-genre-juggling sounds of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, it is impossible to deny the duo’s innovation and influence on popular music within the last decade. As their performing alter egos, N.E.R.D. — an acronym for No One Ever Really Dies — Williams and Hugo are joined by rapper Shae Haley for the awaited follow-up to their last album release of “Seeing Sounds” in 2008.  “Nothing” is the fourth N.E.R.D. album and the first to feel altogether detached from their previous “party anthem” sounds and surroundings.  Drawing on influences from the ’60s and ’70s like The Doors and Moody Blues, the album perpetuates a synth-pop, soulful R&B sound, filtered through a fusion of N.E.R.D.’s early hip-hop rock style.  The album opens with “Party People,” a synthed-up club jam that sounds more commercial than past N.E.R.D. songs. Interestingly, Williams is able to pull the track off with a modern take on ’70s funk.  After that, “Nothing” turns hot and heavy with “Help Me,” which takes Williams’ solo R&B vocals to a more experimental aggressive rock cut.  If that isn’t enough, “Hypnotize U,” produced by the French house megastars Daft Punk, features a billowy, soft-electronic vibe. At its best, N.E.R.D. fulfills its lofty ambition of fusing disparate strands of sounds into something of its own. The lofty suite “I’ve Seen the Light/Inside of Clouds” matches its celestial purpose, coordinating hip-hop drums with brass fanfare and Williams’ svelte voice. One of the group’s best songs on the album, it serves as proof that Williams and Hugo are still experimenting and forward thinking as producers and musicians. Yet some tracks such as “Perfect Derfect” feel desperate to fill slots. Sonically, the album is not as expansive as their other musical projects, but it is the group’s first effort to put out a complete pop album and proves you can find life in the most bizarre of musical corners.