By Gilbert Garcia
Side projects usually exist as a way for recording artists to blow off creative steam and indulge their weirder preoccupations. Occasionally, by some inexplicable fluke, a side project will sell more records than the mother ship (e.g., Tom Tom Club, Folk Implosion). But rarely does a side project deliver a more fully realized artistic statement than the group it spun off.
At the moment, N.E.R.D. are the most prominent exception to that rule. An offshoot of the wildly successful - and gratingly ubiquitous - production team the Neptunes, N.E.R.D. is simultaneously more rocking and more avant-garde than anything the Neptunes have created under their own name. N.E.R.D.'s 2002 debut album, In Search of ..., was a sonic revelation, a kitchen-sink mishmash of jagged beats, heavy-metal guitars, '70s Moog squiggles, and Pharrell Williams' soft, oddly memorable voice.
The second time around, that sound is inevitably more familiar and less fresh, but Fly or Die might be a more consistent set of songs than N.E.R.D.'s debut. Also, it suggests something new for the band: conceptual vision.
Over the last three years, Williams and Hugo have whored their sound out so casually (Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake) that some people have grown weary of them. But with N.E.R.D., they've taken a played-out concept (hip-hop meets metal) and given it a fresh twist by approaching it from the hip-hop direction. Here's hoping the side project becomes their first priority. •
` By Gilbert Garcia `