N.E.R.D.

Seeing Sounds (Star Trak/Interscope)

Seeing Sounds is the third album from N.E.R.D., the "artist" project from Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of production team the Neptunes, along with their buddy Shay Haley. It's the musical equivalent of an ad campaign trying to appeal to the sorta-grown-and-totally-sexy Red Bull and BlackBerry generation. "It's gotta be passionate," you can almost hear Williams imagining. "And retro. And political. You know, some really fucked-up crazy awesome shit!" And so we get a song to bash Bush and mosh to ("Time for Some Action"), a track to snort coke off supermodels to ("Everybody Nose"), and a "thoughtful" Beatles-esque ballad ("Sooner or Later") to impress the tired, left-wing Victoria's Secret babe on the ride home.

The group's moniker has never been more appropriate: Seeing Sounds is all technique, no soul. Every sampler-tweaked and computer-manipulated moment feels micromanaged. The album's title comes from the neurological condition of synesthesia, in which people can visualize what they hear. That's all well and good, but the only thing N.E.R.D.'s listeners will see in their minds are images of these guys twisting knobs in the studio and babbling about how to bottle passion, rage, horniness, etc., on record. Human emotion, however, cannot be created using Pro Tools.

 
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