Once synonymous with production duo The Neptunes, who dominated the airwaves in the early 2000s with tracks they crafted for everyone from Clipse to Britney Spears, Pharrell Williams has struck out on his own.
2013 saw the musician and producer enjoy somewhat of a career renaissance (alongside his Random Access Memories collaborator Nile Rodgers) thanks to two tracks - Robin Thicke's controversial yet catchy 'Blurred Lines', and Daft Punk's summer smash 'Get Lucky'. Then came 'Happy', the breezy, simple yet effective No.1 hit which saw Pharrell's popularity soar even further.
Therefore, it seems like a good a time as ever for Pharrell to ride this wave of success and release his second solo album (2006's In My Mind was his first, and it mainly stayed under the radar of those not already familiar with The Neptunes and NERD). Announced two weeks before its release date, there's been refreshingly little press leading up to G I R L, allowing one to jump in with little expectations. Read our track by track review of G I R L below...
It's an impressive start to the album with the cinematic, smooth 'Marilyn Monroe', the strings of which were arranged by composer Hans Zimmer, and this funky, uplifting feel sets the tone for the rest of G I R L. There's a cracking chorus, which sees P comparing his girl to famous women throughout history, who he concludes don't measure up in the slighest to his lover ("She's everything I want, and it's crystal clear/Not even Marilyn Monroe/Who Cleopatra please/Not even Joan of Arc/That don't mean nothin' to me"). This has single written all over it, and it's only the first track. Very promising indeed.
This is the Justin Timberlake one, and it's great to hear the two working together again. A beatbox intro segues into a disco-inspired beat, all shimmering guitars and handclaps, whilst Pharrell and Justin's falsettos blend together very nicely indeed. It's a good track, but feels like it's leading to an amazing climax which never quite happens. Still, it's better than most of the tracks on The 20/20 Experience.
A no-nonsense, funky guitar riff leads 'Hunter', with Pharrell cooing about how he's going to "hunt you down" whilst breathily insisting his "sex is good". It's got more than a whiff of Prince - and, weirdly, Blondie - about it, which is no bad thing obviously. It also sees Pharrell experimenting more with his vocals, segueing from his trademark falsetto into the occasional sassy shout.
First thought: Pharrell pronounces "gush" as "goooosh", which is odd. We also hate the word gush. That aside, 'Gush' tries a bit too hard to be sexy, and that means it becomes quite unsexy. Luckily, it just about manages to stay on the right side of Robin Thicke sleaze. P repeats his line from his 2003 track with Busta Rhymes - "light your ass on fire" - but 'Gush' has little in common with the brilliant, bubbling individuality of 'Light Your Ass On Fire'.
Yeah, we all know this one. It does what it says on the tin, and it's still brilliant. Interestingly, it now stands out overwhelmingly innocent amongst the sexual, sensual context of the remainder of G I R L.
Below: Watch the video for 'Happy':
'Come Get It Bae'
Uh oh, it's the Miley one, and it's almost a continuation of the sexy barndance anthem '4x4' that Pharrell produced for Bangerz. It's all hand claps, guitar licks and shouts of "hey!" and it's pretty darn good - Miley's vocals sound smokey and sultry, and even subtle for once. This could also definitely be a single.
'Gust of Wind'
'Gust of Wind' is a rather special track. It's the one with Daft Punk, and dare we say, it's far superior to anything on Random Access Memories. It has the same throwback soul sound of RAM, but simultaneously sounds very fresh indeed. With every beat, 'Gust of Wind' seems to get more and more euphoric, Pharrell barely able to contain his gleefulness. 'Gust of Wind', lyrically, is about being deeply in love with someone, and we challenge you not to fall very much deeply in love with this song. One of the album's standout moments.
Marking a change in sound from the throwback soul that has dominated G I R L thus far, 'Lost Queen' is ambitiously individual, and at times it seems like its aspirations may be its downfall - but the track manages to keep it together. A chorus of soothing, humming male voices loop underneath an organic, low tempo drum beat whilst Pharrell waxes lyrical about worshipping a woman - his "lost queen". The best bits? The weird little "vroom vroom" noises he makes. It's all quite lovely, but unremarkable - mind you, it had a lot to live up to after 'Gust of Wind'.
A sumptous, string laden instrumental soundtracks Pharrell waffling about love and space, whilst Jo Jo, of 'Leave (Get Out)' fame, provides backing vocals. This hidden track, which opens with a soothing sound of crashing waves, is really quite nice.
'You Know Who You Are'
This duet with Alicia Keys is possibly one of the album's weakest moments, and a definite filler. Whilst Williams and Keys' vocals work well with each other, there's something about 'You Know Who You Are' which just feels old-fashioned. Maybe it's the quasi reggae beat or the uninspiring lyrics, but we won't be returning to this one. A bit of a shame.
Luckily, the album ends on a high note. 'It Girl' harks back to Pharrell's first solo record In My Mind in terms of its laidback, seductive R&B groove - the best bits of IMM, luckily. Lyrically, there's nothing deep here, but when Pharrell sings the line "When you bite on my lip/And hold my hand/ and moan again, I'ma hold that ass" it almost sounds devastatingly romantic thanks to Pharrell effortlessly soaring up the vocal scale as he croons it. It's another one of the album's best moments.
G I R L is by no means a perfect record, but the standout moments are truly incredible. It's also nicely concise, doesn't take itself too seriously, and follows the successful formula of 'Happy', with its feel good lyricism, throwback soul touches, and simple yet effective beats.
G I R L is, inevitably, a tribute to the ladies - physically and emotionally, although thankfully Williams manages to steer well clear of "sleazy", unlike his pal Robin Thicke. He's obviously learnt a lesson from 'Blurred Lines'.
With G I R L, Pharrell's transformation from oddball producer to fully-fledged popstar is complete. For longtime fans of The Neptunes and NERD, it's a surprising development in Williams' career - and whilst some may be pertubed by his dive into the mainstream, it's nice to see Williams finally get the recognition and attention he so deserves.