"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.
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
The New York
Dolls, "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This"
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.
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.