We're approaching 2018, but N.E.R.D. are centuries ahead of the rest of us. No_One Ever Really Dies is the group's most futuristic and experimental effort to date; it's gutsy and more than a little weird, but there's a slick tidiness underpinning the chaos from start to finish.
The production is high-octane and meaty, which comes as no surprise. From dizzying tempo changes to clever genre-bending, each track comes with a curveball — there's no time to relax. But the anxiety of not knowing what sound you'll meet next is what makes the album so much fun.
On Dies, frontman Pharrell Williams slyly weaves spiritual, politically charged lyrics over deceptively bright beats (as on "Don't Don't Do It," "ESP" and "Lightning, Fire, Magic, Prayer"). And for the most part, the album's supporting cast shines. Rihanna sizzles on "Lemon," while Kendrick Lamar and M.I.A. navigate the frenzied production of "Kites" like slalom skiers. The reggae-inspired "Lifting You" could have gone horribly wrong, but Williams and guest Ed Sheeran pull the song off by being smart — it's an astute ode to the genre rather than a mockery. With Andre 3000 in the passenger seat, "Rollinem 7s" should have been a sure-fire win, but bizarre interruptions in the production change the song's mood for the worse. Andre's verse is strong, but sometimes experimenting with sound has its drawbacks.
As anarchic as it may seem on first listen, No_One Every Really Dies smoothes out a little more with each play. It's a strong comeback for the daring trio. (Columbia)