There aren’t too many artists who enjoy the luxury of competing against themselves. The select few have proven their ability to fluently speak to the people-even through the changing times-while still pushing the music forward.
Jay Z, Beyonce and Kanye West are just a few who have the privilege of having to top themselves, and now Pharrell’s latest album “GIRL” proves he too belongs in the elite group.
When word got out Skateboard P would release his second solo album, a follow up to 2006’s “In My Mind” I had doubts. While he’s cemented himself as a go-to-producer, I worried Mr. Williams had given away his best work. For two decades, P has been the architect behind infectious hits. If he had anything to say, could it be any bigger, louder or as inescapable as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” or Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky?”
Could Pharrell top Pharrell?
All fears melted after hearing the orchestral opening track “Marilyn Monroe.” P sings of a woman whose beauty and power is so unprecedented that even Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra and Joan of Arc couldn’t compare. While Pharrell has a heavy hand on the 10-track album, he teams up with Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer, who spearheads the album’s ambitious string arrangements.
It’s a battle of the falsettos on “Brand New” between Pharrell and Justin Timberlake, and Mr. Williams channels his inner Mick Jagger on “Hunter.” Throughout the album P fuses elements of pop, rhythm and blues with sprinkles of disco and traces of funk to create more than just a sound but a setting. “GIRL” is the sunset on a Friday evening in spring, filled with splashes of strawberries, pinks and peaches that smear the sky.
And as the night falls, P foregoes his gentleman-like behavior and exposes his nasty side on “Gush.” He opens the song with”make the p***y just gush” and comes clean to his Jane about his sexual intentions. Backed by a playful guitar and faint violin section, Pharrell entices you to get sinful.
I could be the guy who treats you/ to a nice movie feed you/But I don’t want to mislead you tonight I think I want to be dirty girl.
Don’t expect Mr. Williams to explore controversial or thought-provoking topics in his lyrics. He shows his love for women-albeit respectful or lustful- in a lot of the same ways musicians before him have in the past. If there are any complaints it would be there’s no clear distinction between tracks. P’s so nestled within his sound, trying to explain the difference between each track is like explaining the difference between joy, glee or delight. They’re all good things, just different words to describe a desired feeling.
The Academy-Award nominated “Happy” rounds out the top five tracks and no matter how many times you hear it, the hybrid of pop and funk completely engulf you, leaving you drowning in bliss.
Twerk Team Captain Miley Cyrus pops up on “Come Get It Bae.” While the sexual innuendo about riding P’s “motorcycle” is cliche, it’s saved by a rhythmic mixture of hand claps, a lean guitar riff and Miley’s chant, “Hey!” You also hear a bit of the talent Pharrell has championed in young Miley. But it’s the Daft Punk assisted “Gust of Wind”-arguably the album’s stand out track -that offers the first real ode to disco. Yes, the song sounds like the little brother of the Parisian duo’s “Lose Yourself To Dance.” But the violins take it from wearing the song’s hand-me-down T-shirt and jeans to a three-piece suit.
Pharrell exalts women on “Lost Queen” begging to serve and showcase his admiration with hot sex (I’m with it!) and gold shiny things. But it’s the second half of the song, interrupted by ocean waves, that P places his arms around the shoulders of women by switching gears and slowing the beat down. In a big brother sort of way, he tells women that looking inward and loving themselves as they are is the only way to experience all the world has to offer. JoJo (remember her?) adds a cherry on top with her sweet, satiny ad-libs.
If the album had a misstep, it would be the ska-esque “Know Who You Are.” With Alicia Keys on the second verse, both musicians let women know they’re not alone. While the girl power is appreciated and the bass line gives the song substance, it comes across a bit hokey after the fourth listen, and more Alicia than Pharrell. P brings the album to a close with “It Girl.” The uptempo sing-talk single is very much so the final song in the club before the lights comes on to signal it’s time go. It’s a sweet wind down, with just the right amount of bounce and funk.
“GIRL” is familiar and a welcomed predictability like Saturday mornings. You’ve heard the album before you’ve ever heard the album because Mr. Williams has never been ashamed of his own musical identity. Pharrell went toe-to-toe with himself and proved the only person that can stop P is P, and did so by exalting women every where.