Rather than pull in outside help to handle "rock 'n' roll duty" as they did on In Search Of…, The Neptunes (producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) grabbed their own instruments and kicked out the criminally underrated Fly Or Die, the first N*E*R*D album to fully (and successfully) mesh a rawer, more organic live sound with the duo's trademark knack for thick studio sheen and radio-friendly urban fare. Preceded deceptively by the single and video for "She Wants To Move," the album is an endearingly messy collage of ideas, from the post-Bacharach pop feel of "Wonderful Place" to the layered harmonies of "Drill Sergeant" and sweeping baroque drama of "Waiting For You." Despite its hodgepodge of disparate influences, the album works surprisingly well as a cohesive whole, wisely leaning heavily on Hugo's exponentially improved ear for pop/rock arrangements and Pharrell's sometimes coy, sometimes disarmingly earnest deliveries. It's no masterpiece, but Fly Or Die is a curious post-millennial gem that deserves close revisiting.
Chad Hugo, Pharrell and Shay Haley
Using Spotify? Listen to Fly Or Die in its entirety right here.
"Don't Worry About It"
"I've been all around the Earth / there no girls that kiss me first," Pharrell croons in that saucy falsetto over a tight-as-shit drum kit groove and crunchy electric guitar chug. The track spills out into a lush spread of harmonies around the 2:16 mark… a sure sign of things to come.
"Fly Or Die"
Groovy electric organ intro segues into a fuzzy guitar meets spry funk-pop stroll verse. Switches rhythms and vibes a couple times, tries on a few different sounds… always returning to that retro B5 bounce. Cool stuff happening in here.
Yeah, remember when Good Charlotte were a thing? Pharrell runs away from home with the Madden brothers and… they all do a lot of jumping. Shrug. The funky clavichord buried in the mix narrowly saves this one from the trash bin.
Sure, the "hey baby" lyrics are a little, but there's no escaping that drum/electric guitar groove riff. There's a little bit of a Jimi Hendrix vibe in there somewhere… don't scoff.
"She Wants To Move"
Rightly remembered for gifting us lines like, "Her ass is a spaceship I want to ride" (followed by the appropriate flying saucer sound effects). The album's prerequisite "party" song is, admit it or not, also its most embarrassingly fun moment. I mean, Pharrell says "Bass!" and then it's there. Amazing.
Love the breezy power trio groove (summery, wistfully propulsive, etc.) and how it builds up into the punchy funk guitar stomp of the chorus. Throw in a little retro synthesizer action and bam, you've got yourself an endearing little tune to lead us into…
"Wonderful Place"/"Waiting For You"
There's absolutely no reason this song should work. Pharrell goes all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ("Look at the birds! Look at the bees!") over a lush, carefree '60s pop backdrop, complete with horn breaks and chilled-out harmonies. Just when you think it's over, there's the acoustic guitar and string section sweep of "Waiting For You," in which a mom saves a baby daughter from near-drowning that should be the lamest, cheesiest thing you've ever heard but… strangely… isn't. Can't even deal with this track. It's genuinely something to behold.
"Drill sergeant, I don't work for you / I'm not going to war…" Quite possibly the cheeriest song ever recorded about draft dodging, complete with cheery handclaps, staccato guitar hits and latter-Beatles piano-pop tangents. Fades out and comes roaring back as "Preservation," an aggressive tumble of jungle drums, garage punk guitars and slow-brewing protest anthem energy.
Okay, so the groan-worthy hip-hop "Hoa, hoa!" vocals are a misstep, but the guitar/drums hook is solid and there's a bizarrely vaudevillian vibe to its dramatic and strange verse sections, complete with ominous violins and post-Freddie Mercury vocal ideas. An odd duck of a song, to be sure.
A lovely bit of windswept pop/rock business, featuring the indispensable Lenny Kravitz on lead guitar. Everything works here, from the Abbey Road pianos to the fuzzy guitar breaks and bittersweet vocal harmonies.
"The Way She Dances"
Your standard Pharrell sex groove, amplified by that chorus pedal guitar sound and whatever faux-choir keyboard sound The Neptunes are rocking during the intro. "I hope your toes are painted / 'cause your gonna dance in your undies all over your house…" Um, yeah-- every night.
"Chariot Of Fire"/"Find My Way"
"Sorry that we took so long / You probably thought we forgot your song…" The fellas takes us out with a mellow stomp of acoustic guitars, walking bass lines and Pharrell's chorus falsetto. "Maybe you're in your car just driving away / and everything's okay…" Hidden track "Find My Way" boasts a crunchy guitar grind over a twinkling bed of electric piano. "I'm searching for my way back / but I'm looking through a peephole…"
Have a favorite song from or memory of N*E*R*D's Fly Or Die? Hit up our comments section below.