Mar 20, 2014

CD Review: Pharrell Williams - "Girl"

It is strange that with a career spanning 20 years, Pharrell Williams manages to come and go as he pleases in the music industry. In 2013, he returned to national prominence with collaborations on two of the biggest radio songs (Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky") as well as his own hit "Happy," which earned him an Academy Award nomination. It was a banner year for the 40-year-old performer only made more impressive for his continuing relevance to pop music and its ever-changing landscape. With his second solo release "Girl," he captures an essence and timelessness to the genre by making an album all about romanticizing and treating women right. Not to mention that it is rather catchy.
Opening with the track "Marilyn Monroe," Williams calls for a different kind of girl to please him. One that hasn't been held up as the premiere figure. It is the start to a semi-concept album that chooses to mix eroticism with a sense of female dominance. He is just a lover in this scenario and over the course of the 10 songs, he plans to do all sorts of sexual things to you. With tight instrumentation that recalls peppy funk from the 70's, there is a joy that plays through the album and while not ever aggressive or cliche, manages to capture the best elements of pop music with a pristine quality that doesn't sound all that manufactured.
It could help that Williams calls in every single performer that he seems to have ever worked with. From Daft Punk ("Gust of Wind") to Justin Timberlake ("Brand New") to stranger selections like Hans Zimmer (who did string arrangements) and Timbaland (who beatboxed on "Brand New"), this is a solo album reflective a man whose success came from collaboration. He finds creativity in the placement of his cameos, which add a nuanced eclecticism to the whole album. The biggest success comes in the little aspects, especially the hooks that take an average chorus and turns it into a catchier melody that demands attention. This comes heavily from backing vocals by female performers such as Miley Cyrus ("Come Get It Bae") and Kelly Osborne ("Marilyn Monroe") doing repetitive harmonies and phrases that become hypnotic.
The incestuous nature is only benefited by Williams' distinct harmonic limitations. With a whispering voice and high pitched melodies, he makes every track sound personal. He manages to make it work with a sensuality behind many of the songs that carry his R&B style presentation have a connective quality. He sounds passionate and cares about every detail, even if the subject of sex becomes monotonous. The charm starts to wear out by the closing tracks as they become slower and ballad-like. 
Even then, the album succeeds because it plays to his strengths. He knows how to write hooks and harmonic back-up vocals. This is reflection of a performer whose long career has taught him how to craft music that is accessible to the public without sacrificing his passion. For the most part, it is a success. This is also thankfully to his desire to not overstay his welcome. The album only boasts 10 songs and in an era where more is always welcomed, especially from someone as prolific as Williams, it is a nice change of pace. It seems like it was an intricate process to choose these songs, and they paid off. 
It has been 11 years since his last solo album and also his last big burst on the scene. The only hope is that now that the attention is back on him that it won't take nearly as long to come out with another release. Even if it is an occasional single, he continues to defy the tropes of a pop star by making music his own way. Here's hoping that in the year to come, he continues to ride his success and hopefully find more interest in crafting another batch of delectable goodies.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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