The Neptunes, childhood friends Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, are super producers that have shaped the style of pop, R&B and hip-hop since the late 1990s. From Kelis and Justin Timberlake to Britney Spears and Snoop Dogg, they have helped launch and revitalise the careers of some of pop’s biggest acts.
Their brand of stripped-back, electronic-fused funk has made them constantly in demand, critically acclaimed and wealthy to boot. So their band, N*E*R*D, which consists of Williams, Hugo and rapper buddy Shay Haley, does not fall under the same financial pressures as other bands.
As Williams puts it: "We didn't care about genres; we're not doing this for the money." As an outlet for their creative outpouring, N*E*R*D draw from artists as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers to James Brown, while adding the trademark Neptunes production sparkle.
Their third album, 'Seeing Sounds', is bursting with energy and infectious beats, but it sometimes falls victim to the wearing of the trio's influences on their sleeves. Also, there is a distinct impression that it would work better if they reined in their rock influences and concentrated on what they do best - stylish pop songs.
Sure to be a dance floor hit, their first single 'Everyone Nose' takes a poke at the current drug fuelled party scene, and has an old school rave feel with speedy drums and handclaps.
Although musically excellent 'Windows' is let down by Williams' lazy lyrics, with a tendency to rhyme the word 'Yo' with, em, 'Yo'. But N*E*R*D were always going to pay more attention to the production, and on 'Spaz' they sound at their funky best with a lazy guitar riff and spacey synths.
On 'Anti Matter' their rock leanings come to the fore with fuzzy, distorted guitars and skittery drums. Williams sounds at home on 'Yeah You', as he goes into Marvin Gaye mode on a smooth track with a silken bass line and trumpets.
Ballad 'Sooner or Later' is gorgeously melodic to begin with, but then things take a downturn with a suspiciously Coldplay-esque build up and lamentable guitar solo.
Fortunately, their influences work better on next track 'Happy' that happily borrows from The Police, and works remarkably well. The album’s weakest moment comes with 'Kill Joy', taking inspiration from the Red Hot Chili Peppers circa 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik'.
The downturn continues with sappy 'Love Bomb'. Featuring uninventive lyrics and routine strings, it is overwhelmingly cloying. Elsewhere their foray into soul works better. Williams lends his trademark falsetto to 'You Know What', which has a funky disco beat, pleasingly jangly guitar hook and string section.
'Seeing Sounds' has some great moments and is enjoyable throughout, but it never reaches the heights they’ve reached through their collaborations with other artists.
The pop gold of Kelis' 'Milkshake', Justin Timberlake's 'Like I Love You' and Beyoncé's 'Work it Out' are but a faint memory. Williams and Hugo don’t look like they'll be running out of ideas any time soon, but maybe they should keep more for themselves?