N.E.R.D. In Search Of...

You've probably encountered one of their records over the past two years, even if you didn't want to. As production team, the Neptunes duo have churned out hits for everyone from ODB to Britney Spears and have seemingly been trapped with a "hit men for hire" tag that has lead to more than a few of their joints sound like near facsimiles of each other. Left to their own devices, like in their work with Kelis, for example, the duo seemed to hint that there was more to them that meets the eye and In Search of... not only confirms it but rams it home with an exclamation point. Originally released in Europe, and available on these shores as an import, In Search Of... originally consisted of the increasingly repetitive digital stop-start mayhem they've constructed for others and perhaps fearing an over saturation of their signature sound they decided at the last minute to overhaul the tracks with Minneapolis funk band Spymob. It's a good move just to dismiss the notions of them being one-trick ponies, but it does more than that. In the translation, tracks like "Truth Or Dare" and "Run To The Sun" gain muscle from their original versions and while they have roots in the pop sound they've fashioned for others, the unexpected musical breakdowns and the heartfelt sincerity ("Run To The Sun" is dedicated to Williams' grandmother) rank the tracks a cut above. But, at times, the duo seems too intent on shirking their hit making status, veering into rock and psychedelica with mixed results. Things do get messy and sticky, at times, but the more you listen the more endearing the idiosyncrasies get. Having successfully broken constraining perceptions of themselves, N.E.R.D., based on this evidence, haven't figured out where they're going, but it looks like it'll be fun to follow along. (Virgin)