Furniture retailers of the future will have a field day with G I R L, Pharrell Williams' second solo album after eight years. They will expect listeners to ponder over their advert music, as we still do listening to The Trammps "Disco Inferno", or The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine". Whether it be soul, disco, or funk - the 60s - 80s defined what we now consider nostalgia, which won't make a comeback, which won't make a comeback...
which won't make a comeback. But it has, and I’m not so sure it's a
good thing. Like all throwbacks, there's a reason - Pharrell's is cash, fame,
and exploitation of the past. His song-writing nature and production style of
emulating the past as a 'homage' seems convoluted. G I R L as
a product comes across as an advertisement for Pharrell, rather than an
appreciation of the music he so blatantly adheres to. There's nothing wrong
with an influence, but when you take that style and fail to make it your own -
you're going to end up being sued. Let's not dive in to the politics of
"Blurred Lines", but it has to be said, Pharrell really messed up -
if not the musical discrepancies, then perhaps the personal lives of his fellow artists.
Still, the success of "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" can't be ignored; but it's the success of these singles which has
put G I R L in our hands today.
G I R L is incredibly flat content wise, and the guests reflect this overtly bland 90s R&B. Kelly Osbourne says a few lines on the opening track "Marilyn Monroe" - a Michael Jackson sound-a-like in the 10s - at least The Weeknd adds his own flavour. Pharrell's opener has lovely string arrangements, curated by none other than Hans Zimmer, but other than this "Marilyn Monroe" falls short of its title. Timbaland guests on "Brand New" - beatboxing, enough said. Justin Timberlake's inclusion adds to this 90s R&B feel, taking the old soul sound and mixing it with more modern sounds and Jacko Thriller-like beats, it suits Timberlake, but "Brand New" sounds dated, and could just as well be any man's song than a Pharrell song. This applies to most of G I R L, coming across as a collaboration of sounds rather than an artist’s solo album. Such as "Come Get It Bae" featuring the vocal brash of controversy queen Miley Cyrus. Other guests such as talent show contestant Leah LaBelle and JoJo (who remembers that name?) feature on G I R L, as stereotypical... girls responding to the passionate feels spouted by Pharrell and his male equivalents on this album.
Beyond the old-fashioned sound lies an admirable theme. In the wake of the "Blurred Lines" controversy, Pharrell has made it his prime focus to clear his name - he never wanted to appear sexist, but that’s how he and Thicke came across. By naming his album G I R L, he's almost acknowledging his wrongdoings on "Blurred Lines", turning the sleazy non-consensual style of chauvinism in to a romantic soulful fuckathon. Pharrell loves women, he respects them < this is what he's trying to get across on G I R L. Almost every track revolves around this theme of showing love to a women, which is slightly frustrating in an equality argument. Again, there's no need to bring politics in to this review, but the politics on female equality take up a big chunk of G I R L's lyrical content. Where Pharrell attempts to put girls on a platform above the man's shoulders as a deity; the reality comes across as more of a sexual innuendo than a serious celebration of women. For instance "Gush", an incredibly lustful track with innuendos and references to orgasms and personality interference: "Make it, just gush, I make the pussy just gush" / "Do you wanna get dirty, girl? Come on, Light that ass on fire," - not quite the name clearance Pharrell is searching for. On a separate note, these sexual innuendos and painfully awful sex fused lyrics belong in the 90s and early 00s, when R&B was at its most ambiguous peak. The actuality of "Gush” and the Cyrus collaboration on "Come Get It Bae" is an indication that Pharrell hasn't learned one thing from pissing off a gender. His intention to bring light to the unbalanced world has failed drastically.
Putting the theme in to perspective really tears apart G I R L as an album. With hip-hop / R&B albums taking concepts and flow very seriously, Pharrell's content is split by "Happy" - 'from Despicable Me 2'. Like "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines", "Happy" has been an incredible source of success for Pharrell. It's a straight forward pop song with soul/funk influences, but it's not represented well on G I R L. It wasn't written for G I R L, and the feel of "Happy" doesn’t reflect Pharrell's sophomore album. You hear it on albums from time to time, G I R L was built around this one single (which was released in June 2013.) Then there's its novelty value, which will last until September before the one time lover becomes the all-time hater. "Happy" is extremely repetitive right down to its hand claps, from the three word hook to the good vibes - "Happy" represents the pop life and success of Pharrell as opposed to the listener. Depending on what music 'gets you off', "Happy" can either be an inspirational life helper, or a song that's forcing you to think happy thoughts when all you want is to make your own mind up what emotion you're feeling.
The integration of non-single tracks on G I R L stands out from the splitter, with rhythms and interesting content such as the highlight "Gust of Wind". Daft Punk turn up with their vocoders, an expected collaboration giving "Gust of Wind" that edge over its album rivals. Then there's "Lost Queen", which sounds like a Kanye West B-side - fitting to Pharrell's production style, but breaking his vocal quality. G I R L's production is solid, there's no disputing the ability of Pharrell's production. It’s not original, but for what it's worth, the quality of sound on these tracks is far greater than recent hip-hop / R&B albums. The actual content is a different story - "Know Who You Are" passes by like a browse for a sofa through DFS. Then there's the album closer "It Girl", which sounds like the music you expect to hear in these furniture stores, or on the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack.
G I R L doesn’t seem to progress Pharrell as a recording artist. These tracks are vivid, and at best mediocre nostalgic soul tracks. Where Pharrell succeeded in creating a shit storm with "Blurred Lines" and "Get Lucky", he's ultimately dampened his own achievements by releasing an album of monotonous music for a pop generation who just wanted to see Michael Jackson before his death. Pharrell's living the life, but his second solo album shows the N.E.R.D man which way to go. He belongs in the background producing, as opposed to creating / performing. The outcome of G I R L is an exclusive elitist party of guests coming together making an album for themselves and for their own egotistic minds. The themes are dissolved by Pharrell's inadequate attempts at reaching out to female listeners as a gentleman - where's the "My Girl", or "The Way You Do the Things You Do"? You're half expecting G I R L to be instantly shelved, with only one single (from Despicable Me 2,) only to be re-discovered 30 years from now when furniture retailers have a field day.