EMI - 2004 - 55 minutes

There's a lad in the Centra on Dame Street who looks like Pharrell from N*E*R*D. Girls in the queue were drunkenly leching at him the last time I was there. The producer-singer is now a superstar. There's Chad as well of course. He's not the same chad that hung out in Florida getting W Bush elected; more of an Asian-American electronic pop'n'Star Trek' addict.

Between the two, they are the Neptunes. Throw in their schoolmate Shay and you have N*E*R*D (No-one Ever Really Dies), an attempt at a soul-rock combo for the 21st century.

N*E*R*D's debut was a beauty. The staccato funk of Lapdance and Brain was pretty much raw, undiluted Neptunes, but 'Stay Together' and 'Bobby James' hinted at an emotion range beyond cyber-booty. For some reason, they withdrew the album and re-recorded it in pounding college rock style, hammering the crystalline subtleties into clodhopping mosh fodder.

With Outkast and the Roots both making superb rock-rap fusion albums, you would have thought that N*E*R*D's time had come. 'Fly or Die' kicks off with 'Don't Worry About It', with a trademark addictive beat supporting some uninspired lyrical flirtation from Pharrell. The riff downloads straight into the brain, Neptunes-style.

But sadly, many of the songs are depressingly turgid - with nu-metal's baleful influence mostly to blame. Then, in the nick of time, we stumble into 'Wonderful Place' (which was surely named after Stevie). A psychedelic strum-along that flicks into life at the chorus, it fades out at the advertised time of 4.19 before coming back to life as a string-driven acoustic lament.

'Drill Sergeant' is as Beatles-sy as Outkast's 'Hey Ya', without being nearly as joyful or catchy. Eventually 'Fly or Die' limps over the finish line, the closing couple of tracks must be the dullest Neptunes productions ever.

More deathly than airborne, 'Fly or Die' is a real disappointment.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Don't Worry About It - Fly Or Die - Jump - Backseat Love - She Wants To Move - Breakout - Wonderful Place - Drill Sergeant - Thrasher - Maybe - The Way She Dances - Chariot Of Fire