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Between the release dates of their third and fourth albums, N.E.R.D. gained and lost a member and scrapped a large volume of in-progress work. They came up with another album’s worth of material, only to have Interscope ask for a larger portion of upbeat songs. Perhaps that’s why Pharrell, Chad Hugo, and Shay Haley -- along with temporary member Rhea Dummett in a very limited capacity -- seemingly recorded a significant chunk of Nothing like they weren’t all that invested the process. It’s as if they were “feeling, not thinking,” to paraphrase “Hot-N-Fun.” That song, as well as a few others, could be classified as modern frat rock, though they’re sonically closer to rubbery pop-funk; they’re shamelessly simple-minded, imagination-deficient retreads of “Lapdance” and “She Wants to Move” minus the ferocity and the sense that the group enjoyed the recording process. The album’s highlights tend not to be full songs but ideas within them -- the drunken horns and drums in “God Bless Us All,” the twinkling keyboard touches in “Perfect Defect,” the taut programming in the Daft Punk-produced “Hypnotize U,” the gorgeously saccharine and Free Design-like back half of “I've Seen the Light/Inside of Clouds.” One exception is the thoroughly transfixing “Life as a Fish,” a lyrically murky ecological rumination cast in pocket-symphony chamber soul. Once again, N.E.R.D. are at their best when they abandon all regard for the Hot 100.

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