If Pharrell Williams is not a renaissance man, he is at least a man of many hats. He is a producer, a fashion designer, a rapper and a five-star collaborator. He is also the co-curator of the exhibition This is Not a Toy, currently up and running at Toronto’s Design Exchange.
The 40-year-old Virginia native worked on pair of the more successful music projects of 2013 – Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album (specifically the hits Get Lucky and Lose Yourself to Dance) and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines single – as well as putting out his own Oscar-nominated Happy, an ebullient chart-topping tune accompanied by a ground-breaking 24-hour-long video.
What’s left then? His own album, that’s what. Today sees the release of G I R L, Williams’s first album since his 2006 solo debut In My Mind. The new album, a sexy, danceable salute to the seventies, features appearances by Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk and Alicia Keys, among others.
The production is ace, the grooves are great – all in all, the sounds are uptight and outta sight. Here’s how it breaks down, track by track.
Marilyn Monroe Lavish strings courtesy of the film composer Hans Zimmer introduce the album and opening track, giving way to Pharrell’s one-word whisper of “different,” followed by a graceful disco style to which Michael Jackson might have danced. Lyrically, what Pharell means by “different” is his wish for a little of the strange, meaning a girl unlike his previous (or possibly current) one. “What can we do,” he shrugs, speaking for all the “helpless romantics” who can’t keep it in their pants. The album cover, by the way, features Pharrell with three women, all in bathrobes and presumably all different from each other.
Brand New Justin Timberlake contributes his platinum-dollar falsetto aside Pharrell’s own high voice for a Soul Train conga-boogaloo. It’s a winning tune, but with an opening line like, “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins,” one suspects Ol’ Shakespeare Timberlake might have helped with the lyrics.
Hunter More love for the seventies, and more love for the ladies. The track stomps like Stayin’ Alive or an upside down Diana Ross while it reveals an unsettlingly base side to the singer’s romantic nature. “Sex is calling,” announces Pharrell, whose sweet-pea appearance belies a predatory instinct. “Taxidermy is on my walls, with a full description of the kill and the cause.” Three songs in, and it’s becoming clear that Grammy awards aren’t this dude’s most prized trophies.
Gush Reminiscent of Pharrell’s star-studded work with his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, Gush is full-on sexy-pants business, with a worrying affection for pyromania that we haven’t seen since Def Leppard played with matches in the early eighties. Pharrell wishes to “leave those panties in flames.” One suspects the first thing he does when entering a hotel room is to unhook the smoke detector.
Happy If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you dig Smokey Robinson and you know it, clap your hands. Heck, if you like clapping your hands, then for gooodness sake, go ahead and clap your hands. The Oscar-nominated lead single (from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack) is better than a dose of vitamin D. This tune that will be making us feel good for decades to come.
Come Get it Bae Back to the sexy. Prince-y sexy, with trebly guitars finding space amid lean beats, moody electronica and a confident come-on: “None of them boys know the first thing about your fantasy, and if they tried, they cannot do it just like me.” Miley Cyrus helps out with a sultry verse about “sugar” cravings. And notice the gallant spoken intro from Pharrell, who is a more-than-one-woman man who misses “all of ya’ll.”
Gust of Wind “When I open the window,” sings Pharrell, “I wanna hug you, ‘cause you remind me of the air.” A middling Philly soul number (with strings again from Zimmer) is deflated by less than ambitious lyrics. The Daft Punk robots deliver a catchy enough hook, but they’ll keep the helmets on, so as to not be identified with this less than compelling track.
Lost Queen The beats and melodic lilt are something out of The Lion King, but Pharrell isn’t playing by jungle rules. No, our smoothie lays it on thick, promising to lavish his lost queen with “hot sex and gold shiny things,” which, of course, is proper protocol when meeting any woman, royalty or otherwise. But before you get the wrong idea, let’s be clear that Pharrell is a stand-up guy. He says he has no problem meeting the parents – “honey and sugar, man, I bet they so classy.” No more classy than you Pharrell, no more classy than you.
Freq Lost Queen leads to a hidden track – a breezy interlude with help from singer JoJo that preaches the value of inner journeys. Quite lovely, Stevie Wonder might agree.
I Know Who You Are The good vibes continue with a sweet pop-reggae duet of Pharrell and Alicia Keys, who asks that all females make a pledge to do what needs to be done until “every woman on the earth is free.” For his part, the hunter Pharrell slyly hides his taxidermy and trophies as he commiserates about his partner’s bad day at work and offers advice on how she should relax: “Inhale, exhale … smile, honey, no stress.” I think we all know that a famous Pharrell foot-rub is coming.
It Girl And a foot rub, well, you know what that can lead to. A falsetto-voiced Pharrell offers the kind of sexual-healing treatment that nine out 10 Marvin Gaye-types prescribe. “C’mon, c’mon, give me what I came for / I got treasure to hide, so let’s keep it from the strangers.” Keep it from strangers? Too late, Pharrell. We all know what you want, and it is spelled G-I-R-L.