Singers and rappers looking for hits don't go to Pharrell Williams for power pop pumped full of steroids, elaborately arranged baroque pop, mosh-inducing guitar assaults, songs about women doing coke in bathrooms, or philosophical ruminations. Williams, along with fellow Neptune Chad Hugo and longtime associate Shay continue to use N.E.R.D. as an outlet for all the stray ideas that leave sales and airplay considerations in the dust. But it's not as if what they have produced as a trio has been inaccessible, and that goes for their third album, Seeing Sounds, as well. In Search Of... went gold, despite being re-recorded into an inferior band-driven version of the synth-and-drum-machine-heavy original (released outside the U.S. in 2001), while the ambitious and occasionally downright bizarre Fly or Die apparently moved roughly 100,000 fewer units. Those numbers aren't bad, but it was apparent that the average Neptunes fan was thrown (or merely not won over) by the stylistic shifts and seemingly out of character lyrical concepts. Seeing Sounds nonetheless goes down the same route as the previous N.E.R.D. album, and there aren't any crossover feature spots, à la the Madden brothers on "Jump," to push it. The only other changes are that Williams gets three quarters of the songwriting credits alone, whereas Fly or Die was Hugo/Williams all the way, and Shay is put to a little more use. Once again, it is evident that they put all of themselves into the material, from the left of center concepts to arrangements with unpredictable shifts. The piano-led "Sooner or Later" switches back and forth from verses akin to David Bowie's "Changes" and a crashing chorus that is nearly bombastic, incorporating a needling guitar solo, while "Love Bomb" is similarly ambitious, using a similar build and release setup while sounding much different. Despite all the weight, those songs still have a way of seeming as easy and carefree as the moments when N.E.R.D. are simply bashing away (sometimes over agitated drum'n'bass), blowing off steam, and talking ridiculous nonsense. Whether taken as a diversion of throwaway fun or a deeper (or peculiar) look into what makes these men tick, the album succeeds.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman