August 18, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Neptunes Present...Clones

Current Status
In Season
We gave it a B

Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, a.k.a. the Neptunes, have used their production skills to give tunes by everyone from Justin Timberlake to Snoop Dogg that voluptuous, ultramodern sheen they’ve all but patented. But calling their new album — on which they produce tracks by Nelly, Snoop, Clipse, Busta Rhymes, and others — The Neptunes Present…Clones is somewhat misleading. As the 2002 Williams/Hugo side project, N.E.R.D.’s ”In Search of…,” proved, the pair are so stylistically peripatetic that it’s all but impossible to pigeonhole their putative ”sound.”

That commitment to eclecticism is apparent throughout ”Clones.” The boys craft dizzyingly carnivalesque sonic swirls for Rhymes, Ludacris, Dirt McGirt (the former Ol’ Dirty Bastard), and other tough-talking alpha-male types to rap over, then turn around and deliver a moody gem like Williams’ ”Frontin’.” Halfway through the disc, they surprise you with the sleek pop-rock of Spymob’s ”Half-Steering Half-Eating Ice Cream,” the High Speed Scene’s naughty arena-punk anthem ”F— N’ Spend,” and N.E.R.D.’s new-wavish ”Loser” (not to be confused with the Beck classic). They even craft a jittery dancehall groove for Super Cat’s ”The Don of Dons.” Overall, there may be a tad too much blustery hip-hop here — these guys are at their best when they let their sensitive sides shine through. Still, seekers of weird and variegated musical kicks will certainly want to snap up ”Clones” toot sweet.

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