Back in high school, I knew a girl who saw musical notes as colors in her mind. Scientists call this neurological phenomenon “synesthesia,” where one sensation involuntarily stimulates a completely different one. It’s this phenomenon that inspired N.E.R.D.’s third album, Seeing Sounds, the idea of which was to create a record with their visual live act in mind. The problem, then, is that the album hop-scotches between various genres (old-school hip-hop, rock n’ roll, big-ballad pop/rock, new wave, disco) but without any of the freshness or spontaneity that made the trio’s debut, In Search Of…, such a happy, multi-sensory accident. Pharrell Williams’s second-rate falsetto leaves much to be desired, per usual, and Chad Hugo’s out-there schematics and retro sounds are few and far between. To be fair, there aren’t any real clunkers to be found on Seeing Sounds and lead single “Everyone Nose (All the Girls Standing in Line for the Bathroom)” and album closer “Laugh About It” are perfectly serviceable Neptunes tracks, but only two tunes, “Spaz” (with its tight drum n’ bass rhythm track, King-Kong-sized guitar licks and Beastie Boys-style rhymes) and “You Know What” (with its disco beat and Wham!-esque hook), are very visionary.
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