New N.E.R.D. album both frustrating and intriguing

N.E.R.D., “No_One Ever Really Dies” (Columbia)

There’s a new N.E.R.D. album out so it’s best to plan ahead: Carve out some time and be prepared to put in some work. N.E.R.D. albums are not passive things. This is not background dinner music, folks.

The 11-track “No_One Ever Really Dies” by the trio — Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley — is equal parts experimental, intriguing, frustrating and captivating. In other words, very true to its side-project DNA.

Many of the songs don’t seem quite finished and some are completely overcooked. A few switch gears in mid-stream, as if the band was distracted by something else shiny in the studio. Many of the lyrics are whacky — until they get deadly serious.

It’s tempting to initially dismiss the whole thing as half-baked — or at least made while really baked. But there’s also great richness here, sometimes hiding in the layered swaths of upbeat computer synth, distorted sounds, endless repetition and random electronic shards.

As a testament to Williams’ stature, he has attracted Rihanna, Gucci Mane, Wale, Kendrick Lamar, Future, M.I.A., Andre 3000 and Ed Sheeran to make featured appearances, while A$AP Rocky and Mary J. Blige offer backing vocals on “Kites.”

Just as he asks plenty from his listeners, his guests are also made to work, not just add luster. So Rihanna raps on the opener “Lemon” and Sheeran is almost unrecognizable in the closing track, the reggae-themed “Lifting You.”

Mark Kennedy, AP Entertainment Writer

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