There’s no denying that Pharrell Williams had one hell of a 2013.
‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Get Lucky’, two of his guest spots on singles by Robin Thicke and Daft Punk respectively, proved to be massive worldwide singles and assured Pharrell as a man to watch as his solo comeback began to take shape. Unfortunately, the controversy around ‘Blurred Lines’ misogynistic tone and degrading video tainted the success and perhaps ensured that Williams’ return – ‘G I R L’ – would be the antithesis of Thicke’s sleazy R&B-pop. Williams himself made sure of that fact by making the album a ‘celebration’ of women and his respect for them which he largely manages to get away with here.
Largely the sonic soundscape here is full of the Seventies-inspired funk that has become Pharrell’s recent renaissance – ‘Hunter’ is a sexy dancefloor jam that could have come right out of Studio 54 in a time machine, while the fantastic opener, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ contains both gorgeous instrumentation and Williams’ personal tribute to sirens of the past while searching for another perfect girl.
The positivity runs throughout ‘GIRL’, with lead single and Oscar nominee ‘Happy’ a bright and effervescent tune that more than deserves its current station as a radio staple, ‘Brand New’ is a bright, funky tune set to become a workout anthem, while album standout ‘Gust of Wind’, Pharrell’s latest team-up with Grammy-winning electronic duo Daft Punk, full of joyful vibes and fantastic electronic production. It seems extremely ironic that a Justin-Timberlake-esque vibe runs through proceedings given that JT’s brand of smooth-as-caramel R&B-funk was practically born from Pharrell’s template.
The guest spots still pop up throughout ‘GIRL’, although they’re largely uncredited – twerking auteur and occasional singer Miley Cyrus adds her vocals to ‘Come Get It Bae’, a smooth earworm of a song, while R&B queen Alicia Keys helps make slow ballad ‘Know Who You Are’ listenable and fun. That isn’t to say the album is a flawless piece of work – ‘Gush’ is a filler song, and some of the slower tunes (namely ‘It Girl’ and ‘Lost Queen’) can be as slow as to bring down the party vibe Pharrell is aiming for and seem to be more like filler slotted in in this short ten-track LP.
But these are minor quibbles in what it is, at heart, an extremely well-meaning and fun album. ‘GIRL’ also allows Pharrell to reinvent himself following a year of guest spots on the year’s biggest singles and production credits for many an artist, as a female-respecting solo artist of solid repute. While Williams may not excel in the slow tune stakes, he’s an expert at the bright and fun R&B that has made him the hottest commodity around and this positive, female-friendly album looks set to accomplish the impossible in being both extremely well-crafted and commanding us to head to the dance floor at once. And we can’t say we mind at all.