Pharrell Williams - G I R L

There was a time, back when Pharrell Williams was the single nerdiest human being whose face appeared regularly on Rap City, when Pharrell’s strangulated cat-screech of a falsetto was maybe the most charming thing about him. Back then, Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, were crafting brittle, wriggly, punishing rap beats that sounded like the future of music — or maybe they sounded like the slightly nastier versions of what fellow Virginia Beach producer Timbaland was making at the same time, which is essentially the same thing. The tracks that the Neptunes made during that run — “SuperThug,” “Caught Out There,” “What Happened To That Boy” — made my life immeasurably better. And one of their greatest weapons was that strategically deployed falsetto, a knowingly terrible howling-in-the-shower type of voice that brought the grandiose dick-slinging of their rapper collaborators back down to earth. On something like Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” or Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me),” Pharrell’s appearances sent the tracks into euphoric, knowingly goofy half-comedy overdrive. Here was this skinny eel-looking dork in a skater clothes who jumped on some of the biggest rap tracks of the day and wailed pinched nonsense with absolute otherworldly confidence, and I loved it so much. Things got a little muddled around the time Pharrell released 2003′s “Frontin’,” his first solo single, a vaguely terrible lounge-funk midtempo jam that gave the discomfiting impression that Pharrell thought he could maybe sing. It was an uneven road for Pharrell over the decade that followed — moments of unimpeachable brilliance followed by moments of embarrassing bullshit — but he finally put it together in a run of singles last year that rivaled anything he’d ever done. And I’m delighted to report that on G I R L, his second solo album, Pharrell has found some ideal Venn-diagram crossover zone where the sly dorkiness of his early years has met the actual vocal chops he’s developed in the years since. Somehow, when nobody was looking, Pharrell became one of the most likable singers in pop. And now he’s made one of the most likable pop albums in recent memory — a small, tight, welcoming LP of sun-blasted disco-funk mood music.

More than even “Get Lucky” or “Blurred Lines,” the catalyst for G I R L is “Happy,” the slow-bubbling Despicable Me 2 soundtrack song that’s up for an Oscar and, as of yesterday, the #1 song in the country — all this, for a song from a movie that hasn’t been in the theater for months. “Happy” has some of the same simplistic crowd-pleasing retro shamelessness as past inescapable smashes like “Hey Ya” and “Fuck You,” and it’s less syncopated than anything else on G I R L. But its real importance to the album is this: It’s the first Pharrell solo single that packs in all the mystic utopian mumbo-jumbo of his work with N.E.R.D. while still sounding like a sharp, finely honed, undeniable pop song. It’s the biggest (and really, maybe the only) Pharrell solo hit because it sounds like Pharrell and it sounds like a hit. In years past, as he discusses in this GQ article, he’s tried to make hits for himself without putting any purpose into it. With “Happy,” though, he figured out how to condense his own goofily lovable personality into four minutes of ray-of-sunshine popcraft.

That’s the entire idea here. G I R L is only ten songs long, and it’s possible to imagine any of them, with the exception of the lost-the-plot eight-minute in-love-with-an-alien odyssey “Lost Queen,” dominating pop radio. Pharrell has said silly things in interviews about how the album is dedicated to every woman ever and how the human race wouldn’t exist without them, but he’s balanced that Aquarian new-age talk with the insinuating skeeziness he displayed on “Blurred Lines.” And he’s kept the album short and tight, almost completely excising the bullshit experiments that have derailed so many N.E.R.D. albums. As he showed in his verse on Future’s “Move That Dope,” he’s better at rapping now than he’s ever been, but Pharrell doesn’t rap a word on G I R L. Instead, he’s zoned in on the affable-loverman-weirdo side that came across so distinctly on “Get Lucky.”

The songs on G I R L won’t linger with you or force you to think about anything. After listening to the album on repeat for a couple of days, the one lyric that sticks with me is the very worst one: “Duck Dynasty is cool and all / But they ain’t got nothing on a female’s call.” (I want Morrissey to corral Pharrell backstage at Coachella or someplace and explain in great detail why Duck Dynasty is not cool and all.) But if the album is as airy and substance-free as a Twinkie, it also gives that instant-satisfaction sugar-rush. The first half, in particular, is an absolute blast, all laser-precise high-stepping pop-funk aimed clearly at your brain’s pleasure centers and nowhere else. “Hunter” sounds like some future society painstakingly re-creating the stuff James Brown’s backing band was playing in 1968, getting everything wrong but discovering some new strain of bubbly robo-funk in the process. “Marilyn Monroe” goes from glorious cinematic orchestral introduction to synth-augmented Off The Wall with thrilling panache. “Gush” is Pharrell’s best Prince rip in years, and given time, I might like it even more than Prince’s Pharrell rip “Black Sweat.” “Brand New” imports the class-clown beatboxing of Justin Timberlake’s Neptunes-produced “Rock Your Body” and then somehow rigs the game so that Pharrell can outsing Timberlake. Even before “Happy” shows up at track five, the smiles-per-minute ratio of the album’s first side is out of control.

The second half starts just as buoyant, with Pharrell and Miley Cyrus exchanging lusty come-ons over rubber guitar stabs. (I get that people hate Miley, but she sounds awesome here.) The turning point here is “Gust Of Wind,” Pharrell’s third collaboration with Daft Punk (or, if you count the Neptunes’ frankly terrible “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” remix, the fourth). “Gust Of Wind” is lush and impressive, but it’s closer in tone to Daft Punk’s Steely Dan pastiche “Fragments Of Time” than to either of the Pharrell/Nile Rodgers tracks on Random Access Memories. Especially in contrast to the sparse, sprightly pop-funk of the tracks that came before, “Gust Of Wind” is a midtempo lope that’s stuffed to the point of bursting. After that, we get the ill-advised “Lost Queen” and “Know Who You Are,” a piece of Police-esque new-wavey reggae fluff with a surprisingly game Alicia Keys. Things only inch back into straight-up party territory with “It Girl,” the closer, and even then, the mood doesn’t entirely come back up. Still, even if I prefer the more bubbly tracks of the album’s first half, there are things to like in every song on G I R L. And Pharrell sells every song with the same joyous dork-out fervor that’s turned him, once again, into a star. G I R L isn’t some moment-defining masterpiece, and it has no ambitions at being one. Instead, it’s an album that’ll make my spring, and maybe yours, just a bit more pleasant. That’s good enough for me.

G I R L is out 3/3 on Columbia. Stream it at iTunes.

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Comments (36)
  1. Since when is Pharrell dorky? Are we talking about the same person?

  2. Happy is shit

  3. With the lack of Premature Evaluations lately, I’m surprised to see this picked over the new Real Estate, War on Drugs, or any of the other major leaks lately. Did anybody really care that much about this album?

    • Seriously, I want a Premature Eval of The War on Drugs already, so we can all talk about how amazing it is in one place.

      • I’ve been hearing good things and am eager to check it out. Why’s it so amazing in your opinion?

        • It sounds like a blazed Bruce Springsteen. It sounds like classic dad-rock (Bruce but also Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty, etc.) filtered through caverns of reverb but somehow gets away with it. It can be criticized as derivate and honestly, if someone told me “you gotta listen to this band, it sounds like the Boss with hella reverb” I would have been like “Yawn, pass” but it is seriously mesmerizing and beautiful and inviting and comforting.

          • It’s amazing. Also hear a ton of Dire Straits and even ’80s Sting on there. BUT it’s fucking great.

          • Yeah, doesn’t sound overtly appealing, but I’ll check it out and see how I feel. Thanks.

          • Nebraska-chills all over. Amazing album.

          • the album blew my mind. Just incredible.

          • In parsing out what Lost in the Dream sounds like, I’ve settled on: “it sounds like 1974 Pink Floyd time traveled to the mid-’80s and heard Born in the USA and Brothers in Arms.” Or: “it sounds like the Traveling Wilburys if they replaced Roy Orbison and George Harrison with Brian Eno and late-1970s David Bowie.” Or: “it sounds like Slave Ambient on HGH.”

            All of these things are good things, at least to my mind.

        • If you like Nebraska you have to check it out. It’s on Youtube, search for Arnau Sabat

    • War on Drugs can’t get a Premature Eval because it’ll be a guaranteed Album of the Week (Albums Prematurely Evaluated can’t be AOTW because rules).

      Everyone is required to listen to “Lost In The Dream” when they get a chance. I don’t care what type of music you usually listen to, the odds are VERY good that you will love it.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • lost in dreams will make you smile.

  4. The way this guy respects women is amazing. Getting them to have toy cars drive on their backs. getting them all on their knees for music videos. Amazing.

  5. The singing is terrible. Especially on “Hunter”. That joint is laughably bad. Pharrell is my dude but I will be passing on this one. I like “It Girl” and “Freq” w/JoJo. That’s about it. The album sounds rushed.

  6. super impressed that this crap got a PE and the only thing the new, incredible wild beasts album got was a nominal mention in the AOTW listings.

    • Usually high profile albums that get leaked or stream before/well before their release date get Premy Evals.

      St. Vincent’s new album is super great (everyone here convinced me to check it out. everyone was right) but it didn’t get a Premy Eval. Hell, I didn’t even see it on their Heavy Rotation (the section you referred to as “AOTW listings” I think). But when the stream of St. Vincent went live, that post basically doubled as a comment party.

      All that aside, a few of us were commenting about the new Wild Beasts album in the AOTW post for ScHoolboy Q. Even though the AOTW posts focus on one album, it’s where we go to talk about any release of the week.

      Besides, who needs a write-up for the Wild Beasts album? It speaks for itself. Know you aren’t alone in thinking it’s amazing. I loved it a whole bunch until I heard The War on Drugs new album. I still love “Present Tense” but it now sits in the shadow of my enormous love for “Lost In The Dream”

      • Your love of Lost in the Dream is inspiring and compels me to love it EVEN MORE than I have been all week. It’s wonderful. I don’t think I’ll be able to cope with even a single negative review when it’s finally released. My head will explode.

    • Also, I really like your username.

    • RJ, well said and I hear you. My wishes for a Present Tense writeup stem from wanting more and more people to appreciate this band. More high profile stories on any website will hopefully garner more ears. That’s all.

  7. A Lou Bega remade for the Indie crowd, floating around as a tepid fart to my ear. Yet here this is in heavy rotation and not St Vincent.

  8. I think this album is a lot of fun. Can’t wait to play some of these (especially “It Girl”) at some summer parties.

  9. sd  |   Posted on Feb 27th +3

    I’m gonna wait until I hear a decent version before I pass final judgement but so far it feels like his own 20/20 Experience Part 2.

    • sd  |   Posted on Mar 1st 0

      Finally a good version of the album and the SQ difference definitely makes it a much more enjoyable album. Nothing ground breaking but it’s definitely a lot better than what I first thought.

  10. I like this album too (well about half of it but that half is good) but you gotta let go of your early Neps fixation dude. yeah I know, futuristic synth-blurt blahblahblah but a bunch of their earliest shit as aged terribly. give me the best N.E.R.D/smoothed-out R&B tracks of theirs over something loud and ugly like “Superthug” anyday. plus their rap beats got more creative after ’02 too, once they ditched their typical synth sound.

  11. Just want to point out that Tom fumbled a bit. “Gust of Wind” is either the fourth or fifth Pharrell/robots collaboration (after the two “RAM” joints and the Neptunes remix), since Daft Punk produced the slinky “Hypnotize U” for N*E*R*D. It was on the “Nothing” album and during their prolonged “TRON Legacy” phase. That is all.

  12. Maybe Pitchfork also needs to tell you guys this album is really good before people realize it.

    Pharrell snuck up and stole JT’s thunder. This is Justified pt. 2. Breihan is wrong about everything in this column except that this album is great and “Gush” is one of its best songs.

    “Gust of Wind” is excellent and I pray it smashes summer radio like “Get Lucky” did because its an even better song.

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