Someday, a particularly lively episode of Behind the Music will be made about N.E.R.D.’s debut album, In Search Of … There are at least three different versions of it on the Internet and in stores, including a sprawling demo sent to journalists and D.J.’s last spring, a pared-down advance copy sent out in the summer (which was released in Europe but not here), and a retooled “official” version just released.
It’s a complex sequence of events considering N.E.R.D. is a side project of the Neptunes (a.k.a. Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams), the Virginia Beach-based production duo responsible for sonically adventurous but also big-selling hits like Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” and Britney Spears’s new “I’m a Slave 4 U.” But In Search Of … is no throwaway. With its blissed-out psychedelia (“Run to the Sun”), sublimely horny synth grooves (“Tape You”), and off-kilter New Wave boogaloo ("Brain”), In Search Of … is beat culture’s biggest step forward since Beck’s Odelay (even better, because it’s delivered without a wink). In Search Of … is personal in ways Beck, and even the Neptunes’ own marquee productions, aren’t: “Run to the Sun” is about connecting with loved ones in the afterlife, and “Stay Together” feels as sweet and vulnerable as Basehead’s hip-hop breakup classic “Not Over You.”
In a way, the album’s greatness is also depressing: If consistent hit-makers like the Neptunes find that their work confuses record labels, what of the left turns taken by commercially untested artists? Shifting release dates could stick In Search Of … in the bargain bins of the business, but it certainly won’t be relegated to the dustbin of history.Too often, the Brits clog our imports sections with things like “Now That’s What I Call Two-Step Garage!,” but two new compilations from the U.K. are worth their premium price: Nigeria 70 (Strut), a collection of Afro-beat that emphasizes tight funk instead of shapeless jams; and Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown (Heavenly), a selection of dub reggae from D.J. Don Letts, who exposed punk-rockers like the Clash to Jamaican music when he was a D.J. at London club the Roxy in the seventies.
In Search Of … (Virgin)