Review Summary: "People don't wanna think no more / they just wanna feel"
Well, you can’t blame N.E.R.D. for trying to pull one over on their fans. Nothing
is just what it brazenly titles itself as – an empty record, one lacking the sometimes questionable but more often than not intriguing experimentation and oddball weirdness that might not have made their earlier records great, but at least made them interesting. It’s as if, after years of pumping out hit singles as the Neptunes and dabbling in all sorts of genres with N.E.R.D., Pharrell Williams and friends threw their hands up and decided to make one of the most half-assed dance records in recent memory. It’s sad that a band that once showed so much promise, hit-or-miss as it was, brings nothing to the table on their latest endeavor that could remotely be called a success.
No longer does the band seem engaged in what had become their calling card, namely mixing up rock, funk, hip-hop and numerous other styles and throwing them into a bewildering stew, with Pharrell’s love-it/hate-it falsetto more or less in charge. Oh, Pharrell and his overinflated sense of his own singing voice are still very much in evidence – just check out the laughable soul he demonstrates on “Hypnotize U” – but if N.E.R.D. as a band ever had an identity, it is nowhere to be found here. Instead, it’s as if the Williams and Hugo went through the Neptunes scrap heap for any number of throwaway tracks, tracked some live instrumentation to keep the N.E.R.D. “ethos” alive, and added typically nonsense Pharrell lyrics on top. “We wrote this for a purpose . . . please feel free to lose your mind,” Williams sings on lead single “Hot-N-Fun,” a better mission statement for Nothing
than any press release could come up with. For a single, “Hot-N-Fun” is disastrously boring, and future candidates “I’ve Seen The Light” and “Hypnotize U” are a faux-soul retread and an embarrassingly cartoonish slow jam, respectively. Nothing is a disturbingly generic record for a group as supposedly innovative as the Neptunes, although maybe this is because every song here sounds like it’s been produced before, and better. It’s nearly impossible to shake the feeling that songs like the opaque ballad “Life as a Fish” or the horn-heavy “God Bless Us All” have been created using what seems like Nothing’s
standardized checklist – down tempo R&B beat, flat lining Pharrell vocals, bubbly bass, a harrumphing horn here or a tinkle of bells there.
“People don’t wanna think no more / they just wanna feel,” goes another line from “Hot-N-Fun,” and if that is what N.E.R.D. have come to after such potential, maybe it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise. Pharrell and the Neptunes long ago turned from a group that emphasized the substance behind their beats into the epitome of flash, a vapid, vacuous style. The Neptunes are a hip-hop commodity now, a fashion and celebrity icon whose name is more important to a track now than the beat itself, and it was only a matter of time before that transformation reached N.E.R.D. as well. No one is going to complain – the Neptunes still put out a killer track now and then, and singles like “Hot-N-Fun” are going to keep N.E.R.D. relevant for years, at least in the clubs. It’s just a shame that a band that could be so much more now gives us Nothing