Reviewed by Greg Beets, Fri., April 2, 2004
N.E.R.D.Fly or Die (Virgin) In the wake of N.E.R.D.'s dynamic SXSW 04 showcase, Fly or Die is a particularly painful letdown. And that's only the beginning of their second album's shortfalls. Instead of bringing back funk-rock outfit Spymob from 2002's In Search Of... to provide a live groove, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and Shae handle most of the instrumentation themselves. As a result, potentially explosive songs like "Don't Worry About It" and "Thrasher" hiccup when they ought flow. Spymob drummer Eric Fawcett is especially missed. Fly or Die is replete with half-baked songs, and the fact that many hint at substance makes it all the more frustrating. "Thrasher," for example, inexplicably fades out in the middle of a chorus, suggesting N.E.R.D. simply gave up instead of figuring out an ending. At least the title track is fully realized, but not enough to cover up the trio's inability to pen decent lyrics. If they're not weaving submoronic sex fantasies like "Backseat Love," they're passing off faux-psychedelic stoner ramblings as higher truths on tunes like "Wonderful Place." No one listens to N.E.R.D. for the lyrics anyway, but minus the steely smooth rock grooves as a foundation, their words are even more distracting. Fly or Die gives you the sense that the Neptunes were trying extra hard to counter their success as pop producers by making a "weird" rock album. Instead of breaking new ground, they've only undermined themselves.