Pharrell Williams – G I R L

by Matthew Graham

Having dominated the charts during 2013, Pharrell Williams’ burst back onto the music scene made sure his second solo album, G I R L (eight years after his debut In My Mind), was hotly anticipated. The record is slick and up-tempo, oozing the cool suave Williams is known for. G I R L also sets out to promote a more positive attitude toward women, especially in the aftermath of Blurred Lines. However that message is slightly mixed, ricocheting between the overtly sexualised Gush and the empowering pledge of Know Who You Are to set all women free. Despite its solid production, G I R L is a tad repetitive in places and I often found myself thinking “I swear I’ve heard this guitar riff before”. Instead of a collection of singles, the album is far more subtle in its selection of songs, containing a few stand out tracks scattered amongst the glossy pop fillers.

Marilyn Monroe opens G I R L with a blend of orchestral strings and funk rhythms. The staccato guitar licks and light snare beats establish Williams’ signature musical style that continues throughout the album and, when coupled with his crooning falsetto, makes his artistry instantly recognisable. It is a strong opening with a catchy chorus that reminded me of CeeLo Green’s Bright Lights Bigger City.

Duet with Justin Timberlake, Brand New, jumps out to make a bid for the best track on the album with its bouncing trumpets and breathy beatboxing. It’s upbeat and sexy and if this song doesn’t get you dancing then I don’t know what will. The other contender for best track, lead single Happy, really showcases Williams’ talent at crafting a brilliant RnB/Gospel flavoured pop song. It feels better produced both vocally and instrumentally than most others on the album - probably the reason it has become so overplayed on the radio - and gives a much needed boost of energy after the duskier sounds of Hunter and Gush.

The second half of G I R L becomes an influx of other styles layered under Williams’ soul-pop audio in what feels like an attempt to overcome the repetitiveness that begins to creep in. Come Get It Bae featuring Miley Cyrus is an enjoyable country and western flecked romp through very thinly concealed innuendos; while Gust Of Wind successfully steps in with Daft Punk’s electronica vibe by bringing out a vocoder heavy chorus and swooping violins. Unfortunately, this boost is not sustained and by the time we get to Lost Queen’s African tribal backdrop, the sound is highly disappointing; it feels cumbersome and droning. However, the track does have more of a positive feminist message than the others.

Having worked with a number of big names on the album, duet with Alicia Keys Know Who You Are lacks the oomph Keys is known for vocally. The track’s reggae flavour doesn’t fit her well and results in a dull filler, which is supposed to be lyrically rousing. However the final song, It Girl, has a summery chilled out sound that rounds G I R L off perfectly. The relaxed electric guitars and light percussion guarantee the song’s place on any beach or poolside playlist this year.

Overall, G I R L showcases Williams’s ability to confidently produce a decent standard of album. It is generally positive and up-tempo whilst maintaining that suave lick Williams is known for. I felt, however, that it fell short of the successful formulas of his earlier features, lacking in the punchy magic his contribution to the charts of 2013 made. I would urge listeners to let G I R L grow on them though, as on first hearing it comes across as a bit dull, but after a few goes its charm peeps through. A good effort, but Williams has produced better.