Pharrell tried the solo gambit first with In My Mind and promptly fell to earth, even with a few successful singles attached to it. G I R L reeks of an attempt to ride the wave of good will he has built up as the producer behind “Blurred Lines” and his turn on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. That turn is included here, and it is one of the bright spots on an otherwise by-the-numbers disc.
Things start out pleasantly enough with opening cut “Marilyn Monroe”. It is refreshing to hear an ode to the perfect woman, considering the person singing it. Sure, this is a song trope that has been done over and over by many far more and less talented than Pharrell, but here it is refreshing since it is coming from someone who has provided beats for songs done by artists that fall under the “women as objects / step one, get money; step two, repeat step one” style of music. This auspicious start makes the rest of the album just as hard to swallow, considering how quickly it all starts to go downhill.
The overall feeling of this album suggests that it isn’t too much of a stretch to picture that Pharrell is similar to Damon Albarn of Blur. Blur’s album Think Tank was widely panned as so much of it was missing the balance that Graham Coxon brought to the fold, and with good reason. On G I R L, there are all too many reminders why Pharrell has sounded better when working alongside Chad Hugo, or even just by himself as the man providing the sound for another pop artist to use for their work. Here it’s just a too short, tired sounding affair by a man who musically sounds fine, but lyrically is trying to reinvent the wheel and failing miserably.
The cracks in the Pharrell machine start to show fairly early with the bouncy (but tellingly heard-it-all-before) beat of “Brand New”, featuring occasional jump-ins from a tepid-sounding and occasionally off-key Justin Timberlake. And those lines ... those lines, like “Feelin’ brand new / Like the tag’s still on me.” There’s light hearted pop with fluffy, disposable lyrics, and then there’s just embarrassingly bad. And “Gush” just sounds like he tried to take “Whiter than what’s spilling down your throat” from “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and stretch out that little bit of classic dirty R&B lecherousness to the length of a full song. It’s not even that it is offensive for being offensive – it’s offensive because it’s just plain bad, and it comes from the mouth of a man who has proven he has the talent to do better within him, if given the chance and the proper space to do so (see any N.E.R.D. album as proof of this fact).
Pharrell has turned in a dud here. It’s catchy and shows faint glimmers of his true talent, but it comes off like a tossed off, half baked batch of outtakes from sessions where his more impressive music was produced. If he strikes out again, third time may be the charm, but second time, definitely not.
// Notes from the Road
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