1. Marilyn Monroe
2. Brand New [feat. Justin Timberlake]
6. Come Get It Bae [feat. Miley Cyrus]
7. Gust of Wind [feat. Daft Punk]
8. Lost Queen
9. You Know Who You Are [feat. Alicia Keys]
10. It Girl
Running time: 47:15
We're not quite sure how Pharrell Williams has managed to turn his career around quite so spectacularly in the last eighteen months, but he has. We all know “Blurred Lines” and we all know “Get Lucky.” And all of a sudden Pharrell is the most sought-after producer and featured artist in the whole word, without exception. Williams would be a fool not to capitalize on what may only be a temporary resurgence, so quite wisely he has released a new solo album, chock full of the joyful pop sensibilities we've become accustomed to from the hit-writer. For the record, it's prenounced “girl,” but it's all in capitals with not one, but two spaces between each letter... G I R L. As far as I'm aware, it's not supposed to stand for anything. The record is supposed to be an ode to all the women who have played an important part in his life, which to be sounds like a roundabout way of saying it's about having relations with bitches and host, but I'm a born cynic. And it's with great precaution that I go into this record. See, I like Pharrell, and to varying degrees I like all of the guests on the record, even Miss Cyrus. But there's something about the way the record's been rush-released, the way it's been promoted and even the pretentiousness of some of the song titles (“Marilyn Monroe”) and the vulgarness of others (“Gush”). But I'll be putting the scepticism to one side for now and enjoying G I R L for what it is – easy-going pop music.
Opener “Marilyn Monroe” begins with some strings, produced by the legendary Hans Zimmer, with whom Pharrell has worked with on numerous occasions. The strings are joyful, teasing and very playful and it makes for a smooth opening track. Pharrell's smooth vocal, even at the age of 40, feels youthful and romantic as he croons over the chorus. Zimmer's work comes to life yet again the second half of the track, in a very over-the-top way, but you sense we're not meant to take this too seriously. The track is intended to get us dancing and there's no doubt it could do that. “Marilyn Monroe” feels like it should be a single. Justin Timberlake features on “Brand New” and to dazzling effect. Timberlake and Williams take turns blasting out their respective falsettos as they sing over an exotic rhythm section and horns. It sounds exactly like you would a duet between the two to sound, and again, has single potential. I get the impression I may be saying that fairly often about this record.
One of the stand out tracks on the record is “Hunter.” Williams falsetto is once again prominent, layered over some back and forth guitar work. The track has an early 80s disco vibe throughout, features flustered panting throughout and a chorus to rival any other on the record. It's one of many tracks all about sex, obviously one of Pharrell's favourite subject. If there's a mis-step on this record then it's definitely “Gush.” First of all, despite what promotional material reads, it's not a song about a man pouring out his feelings for his lady, it's about the sensation of female ejaculation. Pharrell drops lines like “I'll light that ass on fire” and “leave those panties in flames,” so there's no hiding what's on his mind. He chorus is again, pretty catchy, but the blatant raunchy nature of the song. It's possible to write a song about sex and sound, well, sexy, and being so explicit is usually the way to go about it. Williams also insists on pronouncing the word “goosh” as well, which is quite bizarre. “Happy” is the track we've all heard by now, it was featured in Despicable Me 2, it's topping charts around the world as we speak, and it's nominated for the Oscars at the time of writing. The song is undeniably catchy; it's what Pharrell does best, upbeat, mid-tempo pop gold that is going to continue to receive radio play for weeks to come. Get use to it.
Miley Cyrus features on “Come Get It Bae,” and the first thing that sticks out about this track is the awful lyricism, particularly around the chorus. But genius poetry isn't exactly what we're looking for when listening to this sort of music, so you can let it slide to an extent. This track is “Blurred Lines”-esque pop brilliance, and Miss Miley actually sounds pretty good on this record, though her vocal isn't overdone or overproduced, and maybe there's something to be learned there. “Gust of Wind” sees Daft Punk return the favour for Pharrell's work on Random Access Memories but the effects of their collaboration aren't quite as powerful here. Hans Zimmer once again shows up for some amazing string work, and that's arguably the stand out feature of the track. Daft Punk appear on the pre-chorus, and it's a nice guest spot but it's more a case of friends high-fiving each other rather than enhancing the quality of the material. Come for the Punk, stay for the strings. “Lost Queen” takes us off track somewhat, with a more sombre vibe. It features some African percussion early on and Williams takes a more subtle approach to the vocal, right up until the lyric “put it before my eyes / you know I'm-a smash it.” And then it's more not-so-subtle euphemisms. JoJo appears on hidden track “Freq,” and while it's great to hear her back, you have to question why there's a hidden track in the middle of the record. The track is another down-tempo number that once again benefits from the string section and talks more about being an individual than two individuals becoming one, so it's a nice change of pace in that sense.
“I Know Who You Are” is another genre-hopping affair with influences of reggae and ska. Alicia Keys features and provides a vocal that is pretty standard fare for her, and while this track isn't likely to receive much rotation on the airwaves, its laid back nature means it will go down a treat in the warm summer months, if we ever get any. The duo of Keys and Williams is an intriguing one and they show some nice chemistry, but when Keys asks “every woman to make a pledge with me,” you kind of have to roll your eyes at the fact that we're still attempt to maintain the pretence that this record is an ode to womankind. The album finishes up with “It Girl,” which is more a more conventional Pharrell track that opens up with the line, “your waves wash all over me.” It's hard to deny how catchy the hook is but at this point you can't help but wonder whether Pharrell is a 40-year old man or a 14-year old boy, such is his obsession with all things sexual. The track runs at just shy of five minutes and nearly manages to overstay its welcome; I like my pop to be short and sweet, and if it's not in needs to be at least somewhat inventive, “It Girl” is none of these things.
Pharrell Williams - “Happy”
The 411: Pharrell William's G I R L is being billed as the first major release of the year in the mainstream pop scene and it lives up to mantra, in that it features plenty of radio-friendly chart fodder and big name collaborations. The featured artists all deliver to various extents. Williams has delivered an album that experiments in the more traditional pop sensibilities that we've come accustomed to from his works in the last decade, but critically he never allows guest artists to overshadow his own unique vocal. Arguably the most successful collaboration is the string work provided by Hans Zimmer. The first half of the record features the most likely chart successes, while the second experiments with lo-fi, ska, reggae, dancehall and more. If you're the type of music fan that pays attention to lyrics, you're not going to be satisfied with the content, as it makes use of tongue-in-cheek metaphors that are almost exclusively about success. But if you're just looking for a good time, then this is a good record, even if at nearly 50 minutes it feels a little drawn out. You get the feeling Pharrell has made a record that he would deem of substantial artistic merit, and although it doesn't reinvent the wheel, there's certainly a lot worse efforts out there today. Perhaps the album's biggest flaw is that it doesn't contain a hit on the level of “Get Lucky” or “Blurred Lines,” but one or two tracks do come pretty close. It won't top many hipsters' year-end lists, but in terms of mainstream releases you get the feeling that G I R L will have significant staying power.