The Neptunes

The Neptunes Present... Clones (Star Trak/Arista)

Savvy businessmen familiar with the truism that more songwriting and production credits yield a more robust payday, the rainmaking Neptunes have done the entire album thing a couple of times. They've stretched their brittle candy-funk over the frames of Kelis' Kaleidoscope and Clipse's Lord Willin' and juiced the live-band crackle of N.E.R.D.'s In Search of . . .with jeep-beat whomp. But history will remember Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo as the two finest architects of a pop moment, the most blingtastic of modern waxmen.

Clones, a nifty new compilation Williams and Hugo have assembled for their Star Trak label, illustrates the latter via the format of the former: It collects 17 tracks by Neptunes friends and family, each a demonstration of the duo's radio superpowers (or perhaps just its lucrative efficiency). Listen to it from front to back and their grip on the charts might depress you; pop needs different voices working against and with each other, not the cold pay-to-playism suggested by brainless numbers like Vanessa Marquez's "Good Girl," a rote-ass sliver of Neptunes jangle beneath a sub-Lumidee vocal.

Yet heard piecemeal, as radio programmers will surely deliver it, Clones packs terrific thrills: Busta Rhymes dispensing with lyrics and making do with grunts on the itchy "Light Your Ass on Fire"; Nelly going sensitive-pimp in the oddly melancholy "If"; N.E.R.D.'s "Loser" challenging Andrew W.K. for most positive arena-rock of 2003; Kelis importing sass by the truckload in "Popular Thug." "Frontin'," Williams' big solo joint, is that rarest of Neptunes specimens: a Chic-meets-Stereolab slow jam whose hooks dig deeper with each play. And if Ol' Dirty Bastard's insane "Pop Shit" (actually credited to Dirt McGirt, the MC's latest pseudonym) gets over more on ODB's post-incarceration mania than anything musical, consider it a shrewd exploitation of resources by Neptunes Inc.

 
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