Spin Control

July 30, 2006


  • Pharrell, "In My Mind" (Star Trak/Interscope) **

    As one half of the production duo the Neptunes, Virginia-born Pharrell Williams has been responsible for some of the most irresistible and inventive singles of the last decade, crafting hits for No Doubt, Busta Rhymes, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, among others. In the past, his own music, crafted with Neptunes partner Chad Hugo and issued under that name or in the guise of N.E.R.D., has been loose, sloppy, unfocused and all the more appealing for those flaws -- the hip-hop equivalent of a garage band cutting an album in a weekend, with little regard for anything but having fun. But something is missing on Williams' first solo album.

    Maybe we can blame Kanye West, whose inventive productions have eclipsed the Neptunes' in the last few years, for upping the ante -- in that we now expect a creative producer also to have something to say as an artist, at least if he's going to release an album under his own name. But West actually drops by on "Number One," which epitomizes this disc's problems: Kanye and Pharrell spend the entire track emptily boasting about how they're creating a "No. 1, smash-hit, off-the-charts classic," though it sure ain't this limp dud, a generic groove decorated by cheesy tinkling synth.

    Williams can't decide who or what he wants to be. The nerdy lover man, a hip-hop version of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" that he played on earlier efforts, is replaced by a self-professed stud who brings Gwen Stefani in to chirp about how much she wants him ("Can I Have It Like That"), or who resorts to that tired rap cliche of complaining about groupies in "Raspy S---." Elsewhere, Pharrell cedes the reigns to guests who leave him in the shadows (Jay-Z on "Young Girl/I Really Like You" or Snoop Dogg on "That Girl"), or tries to inject a bit of sensitive enlightenment. But when the producer raps about his dead grandmother in "Best Friend," you can't help but think of West's "Roses," and conclude that this disc is a mere shadow of "Late Registration."


    The New York Dolls, "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This" (Roadrunner) *1/2

    One of the most influential bands in the era leading up to the punk revolution three decades ago, the New York Dolls haven't been heard on album since imploding after 1974's presciently titled "Too Much Too Soon." Some would have us believe this is the long-awaited follow-up, but how could it be? Both original drummers, Billy Murcia and Jerry Nolan, are dead, as are Johnny Thunders, true inventor of the buzzsaw guitar, and bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane, who succumbed to leukemia shortly after the first reunion gig at the behest of superfan Morrissey in 2004.

    This leaves only rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist Syl Sylvain and 56-year-old frontman David Johansen -- Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger in the Dolls' twisted, transvestite version of the Rolling Stones. This is not to downplay Johansen's vision or the enduring strength of his raspy baritone, but the singer spent the years from '74 to '04 rejecting the notion of a Dolls reunion, maintaining that the band was all about a particular time, place and spirit he'd left behind.

    A shameless exercise in cash-in nostalgia, this album is full of hollow, ersatz Dolls-like glam-rockers such as "Dancing on the Lip of a Volcano," "Fishnets & Cigarettes" and "Take a Good Look at My Good Looks." These draw on the familiar influences of '50s rock and Motown, but with guitarist Steve Conte doing a poor job of invoking Thunders' roar, and with Johansen and Sylvain clearly only in it for the money. If that weren't the case, they could have recorded under their own names, reclaiming parts of their musical legacy without donning the drag again or pretending they're still the lonely planet boys of "Personality Crisis." So far, Morrissey has avoided such a sorry encore with the Smiths; it's a sad irony that he couldn't see the difference when instigating this comeback by his heroes, who only end up tarnishing a glorious past.