N.E.R.D. performs Thursday, March 18 at the Granada Theater.
After another two years of radio domination and pop-culture omnipresence by Neptunes Inc., Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo (and their curiously fair-weather rapper friend Shay) have returned to the skate park of your mind with Fly or Die, the second offering from their generally rock-oriented side project N.E.R.D. Like In Search Of... , the act's 2002 debut, the disc basically plays like a catch-all for the ideas the Neptunes couldn't convince Britneykelisnellybeyoncéludacrisjay-z to use in songs on their records: crosstown-traffic guitar fuzz and Mike Patton vocal gymnastics in "Backseat Love," anti-war Todd Rundgren pop in "Drill Sergeant," weed-brownie pet sounds in "Wonderful Place" and, perhaps best of all, explicit use of the name Mildred in "Chariot of Fire." The range of sounds and styles makes for a dizzying listen, but unlike N.E.R.D.'s debut, the CD's also kind of a mess, a collection of concepts and half-concepts only given the record-label go-ahead because Pharrell wrote every song Tracy Byrd didn't sing last year. Still, it's nice to hear this kind of large-scale experimentation at a time when record labels are green-lighting messes that don't have the courage to admit, "Her ass is a spaceship I want to ride." Give 'em a hand for consuming so conspicuously.