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N*E*R*D

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Believing themselves to be the most digable of superproducer planets, the all-swagger Neptunes (aka N*E*R*D aka Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) have shopped out their beat-mad mixing expertise to such varied rap and pop phenoms as Jay-Z, Mystikal, and Michael Jackson. And the talented tandem’s street-cred-R&B retooling skills have certainly added addictive grooves to tracks by questionable acts Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Brandy, and Marilyn Manson. But on their debut disc, In Search of N*E*R*D—their pseudonymous moniker standing for No One Ever Really Dies—the Virginia Beach, Va., duo, pulling a Timbaland and heading for the other side of the soundboard, offer up a genre-crazed blend of voice and noise that frequently sounds great but exits your dizzied head way quicker than it should. The Neptunes pride themselves on their so-cool eclectic tastes—Williams’ favorite song to be fellated to is Stereolab’s “The Flower Called Nowhere,” and when he chills out solo-style, he prefers Sergio Mendes—but too often on the album, a whole lot of a little of this and a little of that is just too damn much. The 12-track In Search of plays best when the throwback influences and modern beats are segmented within a song and not crammed into your cranium all at once. The sex-dripped “Baby Doll,” for example, fires off with a stripper-appropriate rump-thump and a Billy “Everybody Wants You” Squire bass line before heading into a deadpan-rapped break decorated with a slinky psychedelic guitar: “You’re my Pop Rocks/You’re my cotton candy/When the beach is hot and sandy/You’re my water.” “Things Are Getting Better” is a Sly nod to ’70s funk with quick-hit doses of saggy-drawers braggadocio to bring us back to today. And “Rock Star”—dedicated to “fuckin’ posers”—is half headbanger, half head-nodder, built with Trent Reznor-fuzzed explosions of guitar, vox, and drums, and soulfully sung put-downs of music-biz put-ons. The album’s all-over-the-place closer, “Stay Together,” has the potential to be quite beautiful, but Williams and Hugo really should have kicked either the Beatles or Al Green or Marvin Gaye or P. Diddy out of the too-packed party. The Neptunes certainly have what it takes to be more than a pan flash, but maybe they should schedule some studio time with OutKast to learn how you really make the perfect kitchen-sink stew. —Sean Daly