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Review: New N.E.R.D. album both frustrating, intriguing

By Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
Dec. 20, 2017 at 8:15 p.m.

This cover image released by Sony shows "No_One Ever Really Dies," a new release by N.E.R.D. (Sony via AP)

There's a new N.E.R.D. album out, so it's best to plan ahead: Carve out some time and be prepared to put in some work. N.E.R.D. albums are not passive things. This is not background dinner music, folks.

The 11-track "No_One Ever Really Dies" by the trio — Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley — is equal parts experimental, intriguing, frustrating and captivating. In other words, very true to its side-project DNA.

Many of the songs don't seem quite finished and some are completely overcooked. A few switch gears in midstream, as if the band was distracted by something else shiny in the studio. Many of the lyrics are whacky — until they get deadly serious.

It's tempting to initially dismiss the whole thing as half-baked — or at least made while really baked. But there's also great richness here, sometimes hiding in the layered swaths of upbeat computer synth, distorted sounds, endless repetition and random electronic shards.

If most people stumble across "No_One Ever Really Dies" expecting an album of wall-to-wall versions of Williams' hit "Happy," they'll be likely confused. But whoever sticks around and puts in some effort will find little jewels. You have to be a little geeky to unlock N.E.R.D.

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