ome people will tell you how all the great songs were written long ago and how things don’t work now the way they used to, how it was so much better back in the day, how there hasn’t been any really great music in the past ten / twenty / thirty years. And I say to them fuck you. Maybe, just maybe, the last fifty, sixty years, pop music’s history, all those songs, all that technological development, those four big movements that get rolled out far too often and labelled as ‘influential’ or ‘seminal’ or some shit, rock n roll, psychedelia, punk, acid house, plus all the other movements and genres that gets forgotten in the historiography-of-rock hype - blues, jazz, soul, funk, disco, hiphop - plus everything else; maybe that was all practice? Rehearsal? Maybe now we’ve learnt the ropes of popular music we can start to tear the barriers down and get busy with the really fucking good stuff.
If you haven’t already realised that The Neptunes exist at the end point of popular music’s development so far, that they are both symptomatic and emblematic of now, then you probably never will, because what happens in The Neptunes Present... Clones is that Pharrell, Chad and co. say “look what we can do”, and then proceed to show us that they can do nearly everything. They are the culmination of popular music’s journey so far, the point at which genre distinctions and elitist snobbery are revealed as the arbitrary and divisive apparatus they are, the moment when anything becomes possible.
So Busta and Pharrell elicit erotic response on “Light Your A** On Fire” over little more than a randy squelch, Clipse get lavished with the most hook-ridden rhythm in The Neptunes’ arsenal on “Blaze Of Glory”, Pharrell & Jay-Z go all Curtis Mayfield-lite on “Frontin’” while Ludacris gets let loose like a firecracker on “It Wasn’t Us”. And this is just within the first five tracks, people. The first of which is an instrumental introduction.
OK, Vanessa Marquez’s “Good Girl” is begging to be skipped, there’s no star turn from Justin, and the two ‘indie’ tracks in the middle are anachronisms not produced by The Neptunes and are here merely because they’re signed to Star Trak (though the Spymob tune maintains quality control much better than The High Speed Scene’s frankly crap “F*** ‘n’ Spend”), but these aberrations are more then compensated for by N*E*R*D’s terrific “Loser,” Rosco P Coldchain’s ultra-minimalist “Hot” and FAM-LAY’s “Rock n Roll.” That The Neptunes can flit from minimalist, stripped-to-the-hook urban pop to weird, accordion-toting dancehall like Super Cat & Jadakiss’ awesome and audacious “Don Of Dons (Put De Ting Pon Dem),” plus bring ODB and Kelis back into the picture, shows that they’re not only still relevant after five years at the head of the game, they’re still brilliant too. The detractors may be queuing up to slight them but really, what’s the point when they’re still this good?