Music

Pharrell: In My Mind

Pharrell has in the past few years endeavored to pitch himself as an average schmoe, a N*E*R*D, a guy just like you n' golly gosh me -- he goes far enough to include in the tray art a pint-size pixilated version of himself reporting: "Wealth is of the heart and mind, not of the pocket."


Pharrell

In My Mind

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2006-07-25
UK Release Date: 2006-07-24
Amazon
iTunes

When an artist pushes the release of his record back and back and back again, the implicit pre-verdict is that it's probably a steaming pile of monkey poop, or else it would have been natural and organic and expeditious and out already. Constant, publicized delays have the same net effect as a studio failing to pre-screen a film for critics: Just hold your nose, put the damn thing out and be done with it. (Two words: Chinese F*#!ing Democracy, and frankly I'm not holding my breath about OutKast either).

Take Skateboard P. Pharrell Williams' solo debut, originally scheduled for release in 1948, has been subject to more delays than the year's first snowstorm night at O'Hare; as recently as last week the diminutive Neptune told Billboard of the street-date shuffle: "I was being super artistic, and I wasn't listening to anybody. I really didn't give Interscope a chance to catch up with me in terms of promotion."

OK, fine. Or, what might have happened is that Pharrell was given more money than God and a blank calendar, and spent his sweet time coming up with what proves to be the aural equivalent of one of those giant-budget explosionpaloozas by, say, Michael Bay. In one sense, In My Mind quite literally represents the alignment of some of the best hip-hop talent money can buy (Gwen! Jay-Z! Kanye! Production by Pharrell Williams!). In another, more accurate sense, it's unfocused, overwrought and ultimately kind of boring.

That first issue is the most pressing one. Among the myriad problems of "In My Mind" is Pharrell's fairly evident identity crisis. Putting aside the fact that he's taken to billing himself for some reason as Skateboard P, who no doubt shares a homeroom table with Chris Gaines, Pharrell has in the past few years endeavored to pitch himself as an average schmoe, a N*E*R*D, a guy just like you n' golly gosh me -- he goes far enough to include in the tray art a pint-size pixilated version of himself reporting: "Wealth is of the heart and mind, not of the pocket." His track record, of course, makes such a proclamation fairly hilarious; it's not like one regularly works with Snoop Dogg to explore the troubled complexity of the human condition. Besides, the strict parameters of the brand of hip-hop that Pharrell has invested himself in -- that would be the blingy, club-worthy, look-at-me kind -- demands he at least spend part of his time reporting how cool he is, while also contributing tracks like the go-get-'em-tiger anthem "You Can Do It Too". So, what you've got is the nerd who sits with the football players at the lunch table trying to convince his RPG buddies and the ladies he's still down with them too.

That's a small taste of the problems with Pharrell's Mind. The rest are that it's in desperate need of connecting tissue and beset by the sense that Pharrell's driving all over the road while twiddling with the stereo. Pharrell understandably wants to pack this proper debut with as many of the myriad ideas he's come up with in the past few years while working on tracks with every rapper on the planet. But he quickly falls into the solo-debut beartrap of trying to jam as many styles, ideas, thoughts, and lunges for artistic invulnerability as possible; he tries to be the walking connection between man and mixtape. Yes, he can do hip-hop and yes, he can take a swing at R&B -- we know this. We want him to do it well, do it better than he's done it before, as opposed to shovel large helpings of it down our throats.

There are a few cases where he does do it better than before. "Raspy Shit" bangs perfectly along on a great effect and a riff on that line from "Drop It Like It's Hot" and stands among his best beats. "Show You How to Hustle," which is "presented" by Skateboard P for reasons that will never cease to befuddle me, is a similar hip-hop call-to-arms that illustrated Pharrell's ability to balance inventiveness with banging beats, and how much better he is when he's not overthinking it. There's a strong diversity to them, too -- some disco, some '70s horns, some minimalist bang -- that's all part of that bring-the-house vibe that permeates the whole thing.

But as a lyricist, Pharrell is a quite a producer. Skateboard has cleaned out the address book for his cameos -- Jay-Z shows up, as do Nelly, Snoop, Kanye, Slim Thug and, er Jamie Cullum -- but each has the unfortunate effect of throwing a spotlight on their host's shortcomings (especially Kanye, who in the otherwise forgettable "Number One" drops this gem: "Now we fresh as a prince while they're Jazzy Jeff."). As for his detours into synthetic loverman R&B -- people, this man cannot sing! "Angel" proves a featherweight enough bedroom snoozer to not really register; "Young Girl", the track with Jay-Z, piles cliché upon cliché, and "Take It Off" sounds truly like something you'd hear at center court at a mall. It's not that they show a lack of expertise; it's that they show a lack of hook, or melody, or catchy anything.

In My Mind ends up being an argument for setting a deadline and sticking with it, for walking out of the door at night, for leaving something on the cutting room floor. It's an ambitious mess, but it's a mess. And it boils quite simply down to a case of -- someone should really cut this out and paste it in every hip-hop studio on the planet -- less is more.

4
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Music

Rush's 'Permanent Waves' Endures with Faultless Commercial Complexity

Forty years later, Rush's ability to strike a nearly perfect balance between mainstream invitingness and exclusory complexity is even more evident and remarkable. The progressive rock classic, Permanent Waves, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Music

Drum Machines? Samples? Brendan Benson Gets Contemporary with 'Dear Life'

Powerpop overlord and part-time Raconteur, Brendan Benson, grafts hip-hop beats to guitar pop on his seventh solo album, Dear Life.

Music

'Sell You Everything' Brings to Light Buzzcocks '1991 Demo LP' That Passed Under-the-Radar

Cherry Red Records' new box-set issued in memory of Pete Shelley gathers together the entire post-reunion output of the legendary Buzzcocks. Across the next week, PopMatters explores the set album-by-album. First up is The 1991 Demo LP.

Music

10 Key Tracks From the British Synthpop Boom of 1980

It's 40 years since the first explosion of electronic songs revitalized the UK charts with futuristic subject matter, DIY aesthetics, and occasionally pompous lyrics. To celebrate, here's a chronological list of those Moog-infused tracks of 1980 that had the biggest impact.

Reading Pandemics

Poe, Pandemic, and Underlying Conditions

To read Edgar Allan Poe in the time of pandemic, we need to appreciate a very different aspect of his perspective—not that of a mimetic artist but of the political economist.

Books

'Yours, Jean' Is a Perfect Mixture of Tragedy, Repressed Desire, and Poor Impulse Control

Lee Martin's Yours, Jean is a perfectly balanced and heartbreaking mix of true crime narrative and literary fiction.

Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.