Attack of the Clones

Critical acclaim, strings of hits, admiration of peers — these metrics may testify to a musician’s talent. But none is more powerful than snagging a listener who wouldn’t usually listen to your music.

Who the hell knows what a “producer” does anyway? All I know is that some names are an almost guarantee stamp of quality — Dave Fridmann, Gustavo Santalaolla, Takamune Negishi.

Sometimes, the producers become stars themselves.

The Neptunes have built an impressive resume writing hits for pop music’s elite. When Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo decided to take centerstage with N.E.R.D., they unleashed In Search of …, a hip-hop album friendly enough for rock snobs.

Williams and Hugo have parlayed that success into a new label, Star Trax, and under their own name, they offer up The Neptunes Present … Clones.

Is this collection suitable for people who would normally dislike hip-hop? Quite frankly, yes.

Of course, being a Neptunes production, Clones has its fair share of bizarre timbres, strangely awkward hooks and seemingly complex beats. That’s par for the proverbial course.

What’s surprising is how all that brainy stuff serves to push the performers on the album to play the shit out of their contributions.

Ludacris steals the show early with “It Wasn’t Us”, a humorous perspective on the rise and fall of fame. Or good intentions.

The refrain on Dirt McGit’s (ne Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s) “Pop Shit” is damn catchy in spite of itself. When Snoop Dogg offers yet another tribute to his favorite botanical substance (“It Blows My Mind”), the Neptunes create a suitably mind-altering backdrop.

Clipse, the first signees to Star Trax, give two offerings – – the incessant “Blaze of Glory”, and the less-impressive-but-just-as-appealing “Hot Damn”.

The Neptunes work best when tinkering with their samplers and hard drives, so it’s tough to gauge just how they enhance — if at all — the token rock tracks on Clones.

Spymob’s “Half-Steering …” is a serviceable rock song, but The High Speed Scene’s “Fuck n’ Spend” is your typical adolescent-targeted emo dreck.

The 18 tracks on Clones may be a lot to digest, but the bright spots on the collection only sweeten what’s already an incredibly strong collection.

More importantly, there’s enough going on sonically that hip-hop philistines feel comfortable listening to these performers speak from their perspective.

(That’s a round-about way of saying you don’t need to lead a gangsta life to get it. Not like most white suburban kids who’d dig this album anyway actually lead that life.)