Pharrell Williams has finally delivered *that* album. Last year Pharrell was part of two of the summer’s biggest hits, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”. With his second official album, G I R L (yes, it’s spaced that way), Pharrell delivers on the promise that all of his production work over the past decade-plus has been building up to. His last album, In My Mind from 2006 suffered greatly because Pharrell had a habit of giving other artists his best work, leaving not as much for himself. This time around though, he polishes and refines the things that made us love him on other people’s tracks into something of his own. The guests run aplenty. Since Pharrell has produced… well… nearly everybody in the pop world, he could cash in on a lot of owed favors. However this isn’t like Timbaland’s Shock Value albums, where each track is a different artist produced by Timbaland. Pharrell makes sure these songs are his own here. But he takes you on a trip through the many styles he has become famous for, and you probably didn’t even know it.
The first song, “Marilyn Monroe”, is his tribute to… you guessed it.. women. The song could have been called “Girl”. But it starts off in grand gesture with a big orchestra like you’re about to watch Pharrell: The Movie. If you’re familiar with his work with/as N.E.R.D., than this will sound like the next logical step after Nothing‘s “Hot-N-Fun”. Even Kelly Osbourne adds some guest vocals here somewhere in the mix. “Brand New” conga-lines its way in next with intro beatboxing by Timbaland and guest vocals by Justin Timberlake that intertwine without overpowering. The horns remind me of those bright happy early 80s songs like Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”, with a horn section by none other than the Dap-Kings (Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse, or anyone on the Dap-Tone label). This one has feel-good plastered all over it. Another upbeat and positive ode to the women Pharrell appreciates so much. Word has it this album is intended to be a concept album about a planet run by 75% women. Concept? Most won’t notice. It’s just a bunch of great songs.
“Hunter” is the one that kind of smacked my ears right from the first listen. Pharrell delivers his famous falsetto that only he can do, in a sexed up ode to the chase and pursuit. Summer jam? I’d love to hear this one on the radio. It’s just enough different to maybe push the top 40 down a different path. The guitar is undeniably hooky. “Gush” follows, being the nastiest song on the album without ever swearing. It manages to be graphic and yet charming at the same time. And strings by Hans Zimmer! Rounding out the first half is the unexpected smash “Happy” that’s from last year’s Despicable Me 2, despite it only recently catching on. The neo-soul bliss of this one slipped under the door and caught me off guard.
The second half kicks off with what I estimate to be his big summer hit, “Come Get It Bae”. He even brings along Miley Cyrus. And like much of her recent songs, if you ignore the flash and glitz, she fits this one quite well. It has quite a bit in common with last year’s “Blurred Lines”, the Robin Thicke mega-smash that should have been labeled “Pharrell featuring Robin Thicke” in my opinion. The difference is this one has a clangy guitar riff. This time around it’s a bit less confrontational than “Blurred Lines”. “Gust of Wind” drifts in next like a warm summer breeze. This is the return-favor collaboration with Daft Punk. Yet it totally sounds like a track that could have been on last year’s Random Access Memories if they had stuck with only Pharrell on vocals. I half expected to see Nile Rodgers in the credits also but he’s nowhere to be found.
“Lost Queen” is where we take a step back from all out pop, with a simple african drum beat and vocal melody like it came from Paul Simon’s Graceland. But with a Pharrell beat. There’s a hidden track at the end of the song called “Freq”, a slowed down spaced out love song about going “inward to reach outer space”. “Know Who You Are” a laid back but funky duet with Alicia Keys that she tries to steer into a girl-power… oh I’m sorry G I R L-power anthem. The final track is a great jam to go out on. “It Girl” recalls the old school vibe of De La Soul’s hip-hop classic “Buddy”, without directly sampling it (at least I think). It’s a head-bobbing, finger-snapping feel-good time with some of Pharrell’s best falsetto singing.
Ten tracks. Eleven if you count the hidden song. Short and sweet but very little by way of filler. This is the kind of album I’d been hoping Pharrell would eventually put out. His albums with N.E.R.D. were always fun and adventurous but just slightly too ahead of the times to have the mainstream appeal. This time I think the world is ready. If he plays his cards right, this could be one of the biggest pop albums in a while, provided the slow-burn method that worked for “Happy” works on some of these other stellar tracks. I know this is going to be one of my hot-summer-day-windows-down albums this year.
Get your own copy of G I R L HERE:
Check out some videos and performances from the album HERE:
“Come Get It Bae”:
“Hunter” (Live from AxemUnstaged):
“Gust of Wind”