Simply put, 2013 was Pharrell’s year. His collaborations on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines guaranteed chart domination for the best part of that entire year and the brilliant production on both albums led to his second ‘Producer of The Year’ Grammy award (the first came in 2004 as part of the Neptunes). So off the back of such a successful year and with his creative juices flowing, Pharrell carries over his momentum into 2014 with the release of G I R L, his first solo release since In My Mind back in ‘06. In his seven year absence – well it hasn’t been an absence at all – Pharrell has remained the go to guy for a hit throughout the past decade and has now ventured out into the world of movie scores and soundtracks. His most notable Hollywood compositions include assisting on the drums for the Man of Steel score alongside fellow genius Hans Zimmer and also the three songs he created for the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack; one of which happens to be the unavoidable Happy which serves as the first single off of G I R L.

Pharrell GIRL artwork
Pharrell, ‘G I R L’. Source: pharrellwilliams.com

If you have not heard Happy yet, congratulations on successfully building the delorean and travelling to a time when radios and speakers were non-existent. Stemming from a children’s movie, there are clear indicators that this song is designed specifically for kids. You don’t believe us? Imagine turning on the television at 6am and seeing the Teletubbies bouncing around and commanding their audience to ‘clap along’ whilst Happy plays in the background. Despite its intended audience, this song has managed to ingrain itself within popular culture and touch adults of all ages, spreading like a pandemic. In fear of criticising this song due its large popularity, a gentleman must always stay true to his virtues and unfortunately criticize we must. The song is  basic and lacks real substance; the initial cheerful and upbeat tones can quickly turn the most serene pacifist to anger after a couple of replays. Heard on radios, ringtones, out of car windows and almost any advert that wants their car or headphones associated with the notion of happiness has latched hold of the song. After the umpteenth listen, the last thing we feel after hearing it’s basic melody is Happy. It is an unfortunate victim of its own success.

Pharrell and Hans Zimmer
Pharrell and Hans Zimmer. Source: theneptunes.org

Pharrell sets the theme for this album with the first track titled Marilyn Monroe after one of the most celebrated female models/actresses of all time; not to mention the most quoted woman on the Facebook page of every twenty year old female. The song starts with a blissful orchestra of strings before breaking into Pharrell’s traditional funk with pulsating bass, head nodding drums and an addictive melody which Pharrell effortlessly harmonises. The party continues on Brand New, reuniting Justin Timberlake with Pharrell. The track features a great brass section and a thumping kick drum providing the energy as Pharrell and Timberlake go back and forth, trading softly sung vocals. The song Hunter sounds like a throwback Prince record, with pluck guitar synths and a two step back beat which is consistent throughout the album. The track has not got much to offer and Pharrell’s falsetto singing grows tiresome.

Gush adds some raunchiness to the album and has that trademark Pharrell feel. The guitar strums on the song sounds like he took lessons from Nile Rogers during their collaboration on Daft Punk’s last album and the bridge reminds us why Pharrell is in a league of his own when it comes to song structure. Up to this point on the album, the drums have been tamed following a two step beat; Come Get It Babe still follows this two step theme but offers a lot more variations of sounds. Unfortunately, the repetitiveness of the drums and constant ad-libs that sound familiar to a Curtis Mayfield record make this song a bore fest.  The Daft Punk assisted Gust of Wind is driven by fantastic strings throughout whereas the vocoder chorus adds a welcomed element, making for another upbeat, feel good track.

Lost Queen is a song of two halves; the first being the most experimental song on the entire album with bongo drums, an 808 snare and humming… yes humming is happening in the background. The instrumental sounds like it could be featured on the Lion King soundtrack. The army chant call and response styled singing paired with the Lion King backing track makes for the worst song on the album and a real low point. The second half of the song however is utterly flawless; adding some down tempo soul that works so nicely after the monstrosity that preceded it. Know Who You Are has a reggae/lovers rock bounce to it and a fat baseline to match. The Alicia Keys feature on this song could have been better used as she follows the same fast spoken melody as Pharrell, cutting her vocal short and not allowing her to roar out her impressive vocal that we know she has. Despite this, the song is still pleasant. The closing track It Girl feature an interesting reverb guitar towards the end but the song sounds like a toned down Blurred Lines and at this point in the album, very forgettable.

Having recently married, it is clear that Pharrell is in a “happy” place and his happiness screams volumes on this album. The whole album experience is a celebration and a testimony to women. Sonically, G I R L resembles the disco music of the 80’s much like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. It is safe to say that Pharrell isn’t the strongest singer and therefore it was a brave move to sing on all ten songs. It is a move however that did not quite pay off. Pharrell’s constant high pitch vocal throughout the album can grate and irritate despite that glamorous production that surrounds it. The production is what we’ve come to expect from Pharrell which is near perfection. Notwithstanding the hiccup on Lost Queen, Pharrell is able to effortlessly paint pictures of horizons and sunsets and conjure whatever imagery he desires with his smooth and incredibly stylish instruments. The real magic on this album lies in the addictive baselines and breathtaking bridges that are unmatched by anybody in the industry at the moment. Overall G I R L is a solid album, with astonishing production and great vision. The letdown is Pharrell’s vocal performance and whilst he manages to paint the picture well, he fails to deliver the true emotion that is hidden somewhere in these potentially great tracks.

6.5/10

How do you feel about Pharrell’s second solo album? Does it make you “happy”? (Sorry, we couldn’t help it).
Do you prefer the singing Pharrell or rapping Pharrell?
Let us know how you feel and leave a comment.