2002 / Music

Review: N.E.R.D., Super Furry Animals

In-Demand Producers Neptunes Release Debut Album

Read the Reviews: N.E.R.D. | Super Furry Animals

Although the Neptunes are the hottest producers in hip-hop, R&B and rock, Paul McCartney opted for Wales’ best-kept secret, Super Furry Animals, to remix some Beatle outtakes for the Grammy-nominated project, “Liverpool Sound Collage.”

While the release of the Super Furry Animals’ latest effort should open some eyes and ears on this side of the Atlantic, the Neptunes debut album as the hip-hop group, N.E.R.D., fails to live up to their platnium reputation.

N.E.R.D. “In Search Of…”

Having spent the last few years building a resume of rap classics and a rep as hip-hop’s Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, mercenary production team, the Neptunes, have focused their Midas touch on a project all their own.

Photo: Virgin Records

Photo: Virgin Records

Recorded under the pseudonym N.E.R.D., and featuring the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo and co-conspirator Shay Haley, the album, “In Search Of…,” flaunts the same eclectic sensibilities that have enabled the Neptunes to arrange cuts for diverse artists like Jay-Z, the Backstreet Boys, No Doubt, Daft Punk and Janet Jackson.

But unlike their previous work, “In Search Of…” emphasizes live instrumentation — which sometimes compensates for the record’s lack of big-ticket singles or the vocalists’ reliance on broadcasting their heterosexuality for something to sing/rap about.

It’s a credit to the Neptunes’ skill as producers that they know how to harness a breathing rhythm section that can unify the varying musical segments that make up each cut on the album. On certain songs, the group can change the musical landscape while still hitting the beat hard.

The best examples are tracks like “Lapdance” or “Am I High,” which are bonded by headstrong funk even though the songs feature a mix of vocalists and rappers of different intensities and the musical accompaniment twists to support their lyrics.

Although the group’s track record proves that they know how to build an ironclad arrangement or massage a hit single, the execution on this record falls flat. There are moments of clear-cut catchiness, but they are rare. Too often, the songs’ ill-fitting sequences seem like a collection of musical raw material the Neptunes can sample from when they’re next hired for a re-mix.

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Super Furry Animals “Rings Around The World”

Once the stomping grounds of prog-rock visionaries and Burt Bacharach acolytes, the string-filled, symphonic variant of psychedelic music became an endangered species after the end of the ’60s.

The guitar-driven version of psychedelia advanced by Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd has been kept alive and even reinvigorated by the Stone Roses and then Oasis and Radiohead, but the use of strings on loathsome ballads like Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” are the only lingering remnants of psychedelic music’s more urbane incarnation.

Out of the wilderness (or Wales), the Super Furry Animals have released, “Rings Around The World,” the first psychedelic masterwork of the 21st Century. The album is filled with well-formulated songs that are sparingly embellished with an eclectic batch of sounds that take psychedelia to its logical extreme without oversaturating the music.

Partially recorded in the upstate New York home base of Mercury Rev — a band that is also fond of grand musical statements — the Super Furry Animals’ album raises the bar by stressing the songs’ hooks.

The album’s early triumph, “Sidewalk Serfer Girl,” is a chaotic merger of techno beats, gruff guitar and organ swirls that clears into a serene chorus of stacked vocals. Another chorus-dominated piece is “Presidential Suite,” an elegant tribute to President Clinton’s sex scandal. Early on, the track hints at illicit danger with a soft Latin beat and faint horns echoing in the background. But, teasingly, the music gathers momentum for the chorus that builds until subsiding at its peak.

Equally dramatic, “Shoot Doris Day” has all the bombast to make it as the theme to the next James Bond movie. Frontman Gruff Rhys’ voice is reminiscent of Elvis Costello as he sings mournfully of relationship miscommunication to a crescendo of strings and cymbal crashes.

And it is certainly appropriate that the album features guest appearances by two of the psychedelic era’s inspired orchestration enthusiasts — Paul McCartney and Velvet Underground co-founder John Cale. Their contributions to the record are mostly negligible but their influence has obviously been profound.

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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2002 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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