As violins composed by frequent collaborator Hans Zimmer open Pharrell Williams’ second solo album, G I R L, the first word that hits the listener’s ears is “different.” It is the quintessential word to describe an artist who has not only turned heads for his unconventional style (audiences are still gawking at his Vivenne Westwood Grammy hat), but also known for founding a company called i am OTHER.
For the past eight years, Pharrell has shied away from the limelight admitting his first LP’s lack of sales and direction left him discouraged. He was content with producing, making occasional features and scoring films (Despicable Me, Amazing Spider-Man 2) and the 2012 Oscars with Zimmer. After producing three of 2013’s hottest singles (“Blurred Lines,” “Get Lucky” and “Happy”), he became Billboard’s poster child. Columbia Records took notice, and he hesitantly accepted their invitation to get back in the studio as a solo artist.
Announced no more than two weeks prior to its release, G I R L continues the vivacious and warm tone of “Happy,” and it is absolutely contagious. Embracing strings and chords that recall Disco and Soul grooves of the 70s, its tangible sound serves as a divine awakening from Pop music’s computerized coma. In an era where EDM and Dubstep dominated with its cold and synthetic melodies, Pharrell incorporates a key element that was too often neglected in recent years: instrumentation.
Like the title of his second track with Justin Timberlake, the reappearance of uptempo brass and Nile Rodgers’ riffs fit for The Jackson 5 make the listener feel “Brand New.” Daft Punk add dimension to the danceable and feel-great “Gust of Wind,” and the guitar solo combined with soft keyboards on “It Girl” is pure ethereal ecstasy.
Now settled down with his wife, Helen Lasichanh, and 5-year old son, Rocket, at age 40, the lyrics on G I R L are a far cry from the lavish life and fancy cars on his first effort, In My Mind. Similar to Beyonce, the album is a love letter to women with the intention of making them feel like they possess a super power. Citing females as “the cornerstone of existence,” he reveres them in songs like, “Lost Queen” and empathizes with them on “Know Who You Are” with songstress Alicia Keys singing, “Bad day, at work, crazy boss, crazy or worse/Finger pointin,’ but they depend on you.”
On the lusty “Come Get It Bae” with Miley Cyrus, he promises to satisfy his lover amidst a lively interpolation of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch.” He boasts, “None of them boys know the first thing about your fantasy/And if they tried, they cannot do it just like me.” He exudes sexual confidence aspiring to make his woman “Gush” as violins that sound like Puffy’s “I Love You, Baby play while he asks if she wants to “get dirty.”
Aside from harmonizing about the opposite sex, he also touches on his fascination with space (“My lucky star/I guess you came from behind the moon”) and praises uniqueness on “Freq,” a hidden track with former Pop princess JoJo. He proclaims the adage he’s always seemed to live by. “You see I’d rather be a freq than not bein’ me/Individuality makes life better.”
After listening to the album’s ten tracks, G I R L, stimulates with it refreshing sound and unexpected star power that was kept as secretive as the creation of the album itself. Though it instills a frustrating yearning for summer in March and “Happy” sounds awkward between two sexually charged tracks, the album shows a tremendous amount of growth since Pharrell became eminent for The Neptunes’ sound.
Long-time fans will be delighted to hear various motifs from his work like the electric piano on “Señorita,” N.E.R.D.’s beloved clavichord and a reference to a 2003 track produced for Busta Rhymes. New fans of all ages will enjoy its universal theme of love and its sophisticated, yet fun production. Sure to be award-winning, it is a brilliant and much-needed project by the man behind the boards who has created the majority of his masterpieces for everyone but himself.