This past January, Pharrell Williams was awarded the Grammy for Producer of the Year. Despite what people think about the Grammys and their picks (*cough* Macklemore *cough*), it’s hard to deny the presence Williams has made for himself in the past year. Williams has churned out hits for people including Snoop Dogg, Britney Spears, Fall Out Boy and Jay-Z in the past 20 years, crystallizing a distinct sound that has spliced rap, pop, rock and R&B brilliantly. The year 2013 saw Pharrell assist in the ascension of music’s two beloved robots (“Get Lucky”) and showed that a Marvin Gaye sample could make a hit song for anyone (“Blurred Lines”). Pharrell also scored a hit with “Happy” off of the soundtrack to “Despicable Me 2,” which had its score made by Williams as well. So now, out of almost nowhere but not entirely surprisingly, Pharrell has presented nine new tracks (including “Happy”) to the public. He did not even want to do another solo album after 2006’s underwhelming “In My Mind,” but his recent success has sparked a new outlook on his sound. The sky is the limit, and Williams is cruising on cloud nine as he makes a bid to go from pop’s secret weapon to the Quincy Jones of the 21st century.
“G I R L” is a bright, shiny, simple pop album produced and sung (not rapped) by Williams. Lush string sections, clean guitar, funky bass and Williams’ impressive falsetto fill each track. Opener “Marilyn Monroe” mixes the sweeping strings in the first 23 seconds with Pharrell’s familiar drumbeat effortlessly. Justin Timberlake joins Williams for the upbeat big band duet “Brand New.” The spirit of 1980s Prince moves throughout the groovy come-ons of “Gush” and “Hunter.” While it might seem like a repackaging deal for one song, “Happy” does fit in quite well with the rest of the album with its bouncy 50s/60s-style rhythm and pop. Pharrell even manages to give a nod to Paul Simon circa “Graceland” with the tribal slow jam “Lost Queen.” “Gust of Wind” is the standout, with a beautiful synthesis of strings, guitar, funk and backup vocals by the robots themselves, Daft Punk. It is the comeback song Stevie Wonder should have had, but Pharrell is equally deserving of a track this timeless and modern at the same time.
Musically, “G I R L” is diverse in its delivery of pop music. Lyrically, the newly married Pharrell is a full-on lover. He is dedicating his music to the lovers of the world, looking to “dance and elevate each other.” According to “Brand New,” “Life to me is easy / People make it complicated / When love is the tool, no reason we can’t make it.” He can be corny too, as on “Hunter” where he name-drops “Duck Dynasty” and taxidermy to compare the attraction of a woman. He rides handclaps and a fuzzy organ with Miley Cyrus on “Come Get It Bae” as he knows the ladies want to ride his “motorcycle” but are “too high” to “pop a wheelie,” so make of that what you will. But again, “Gust of Wind” is the highlight, where the robots compare the woman to the one “who ushers in the air I need to power my sail” and Pharrell embracing the air around him as the love of his life. Ok, that is also pretty corny, but you’ll be too busy in the groove to care.
Pharrell is not making a grand statement or shooting for a career highlight on “G I R L.” This acts more like a victory lap for Pharrell’s amazing 2013. The mood is light, the sound is friendly and the lyrics are sincere (and a tad goofy). But in a way, “G I R L” is actually a pretty refreshing breeze of retro-pop in a world of bombastic but bland EDM-pop.