Despite being comprised of three artistic heavyweights—Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio; Mike Patton of Faith No More, Tomahawk, Mr. Bungle, and countless other projects; and Adam ‘doseone’ Drucker, who, as founder of Anticon and cLOUDDEAD, was at the forefront of new school experimental hip hop—it would be wrong to classify Nevermen as a supergroup, though I can think of no other label that might qualify as a descriptor. I suppose it all depends on how we want to define a supergroup. Is it merely a band formed by existing, already established artists, or does the term imply something different—namely that the parties involved each have their unique voices, recognizably their own, added to a chorus of other heavyweights?
If we define in using the former guidelines, then sure, Nevermen are a supergroup. But I think that might be a mischaracterization of the term. When I think “supergroup” I think Traveling Wilburys or The Highwaymen or Damn Yankees. I picture a wild tornado of egos vying for recognition in a battle to let themselves shine through at the expense of the project as a whole. In this regard, Nevermen are far from a supergroup.
Semantics, I know, and you might not be wrong for disagreeing with my definitions. But with their debut, eponymous record, Nevermen buck all the standards of traditionalism. Outward appearances are meaningless in the face of the staggering gigantism of their intents and results. Nevermen might appear to be a supergroup, but the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s no attempt here to outshine or outdo each other. No, Patton, Adebimpe, and Drucker have instead created something entirely new and entirely its own thing, and never do Nevermen attempt to rest their laurels on their histories.
Nevermen is a difficult, challenging record that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense with just a single listen. It’s truly a product of its members, a wild amalgam of three geniuses at play. Disjointed initial impressions coalesce into tangible soundscapes with subsequent spins, offering rich rewards for the faithful who welcome the journey. Nevermen don’t just cross genres, they destroy them and reconstruct them into something new and unrecognizable. The base elements—rock, pop, soul, hip hop—shine through in fits and starts, creating fascinating layers of sound that entice the listener down a rabbit hole that could only be dug by these three heavyweights.
At no point is the spotlight ever fully on any of its three frontmen; the mad scientists behind the group share the effort beautifully, each bringing their own artistic philosophies to the table to create a stylistic bouillabaisse that defies categorization. While it’s true that each of the artists involved take turns singing—at times recalling a sort of evolution of early hip hop’s “call and response” routines–at no point do those involved make attempts to outshine each other or let their own personalities take the forefront. Instead, Nevermen is a three-headed beast. Regardless of which head might be on the mic at any given moment, attention can never fully be taken away from the others.
Which isn’t to say that their voices are unrecognizable. Far from it. Fans of any one of Nevermen’s collective will instantly be familiar with the contributions of their favorite. Patton’s familiar range, Adebimpe’s sultry voice, and doseone’s nasally intonations are all present, but the three disparate voices work in a kind of unison, forging a Frankenstein’s monster of pop that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This dynamic is at play from Nevermen’s earliest moments; album opener “Dark Ear” finds all three contributors singing together and then fading into each other over an intense, guitar fueled track with an undeniable rhythm that grabs you by the head and forces you to nod along. However, while it might serve as a general overview of what a listener can expect from the record, never are the surprises given away.
As rock fueled as “Dark Ear” is, one need only to skip to track three, “Wrong Animal Right Trap,” to see the vastness of their influences and their intents. The song skips from hip hop, with all three contributors throwing in lines of a single verse, to an ethereal pop dreamscape and back again at the drop of a hat, deftly refusing attempts at pigeonholing by audiences or critics.
Never is the dynamic more apparent than on the record’s penultimate track, “Non Babylon.” Here, the frontmen trade off not lines but words, using their individual efforts to showcase their greater whole, truly becoming a single voice. “The frontman digests its self,” they intone, serving as a kind of thesis for the entire project.
Indeed, as much as they are all frontmen, there is no frontman here. This is shared effort, absent of the egotism normally found in supergroups. You can’t appreciate Nevermen as a fan of any one of its members. This isn’t an extension of Tomahawk, TV on the Radio, or cLOUDDEAD. Anyone hoping for an evolution of familiar sounds will be left largely in the dark here. No, this is entirely its own thing, marking new and uncharted territory for everyone involved. By staunchly avoiding the trappings normally found within the supergroup, Patton, Adebimbe, and doseone have created a new group that just so happens to be super.