Pharrell Williams has spent basically half his life now as one of the most in-demand producers in the industry. His production turns on some of the biggest mainstream pop songs of the last 20 years, as part of The Neptunes, have earned him countless imitators. But until this past summer, Pharrell's gifts as an artist in his own right have been largely overlooked. Suddenly in 2013, he was everywhere. Williams delivered guest turns on the (sigh) tragically omni-present “Blurred Lines,” the lead on Daft Punk's undeniable “Get Lucky,” and closing out with the retro soul single “Happy.” 2013 seemed like the year of Pharrell. He's intent on continuing that winning-streak with the surprise release of his latest solo record GIRL.
By Nathan Leigh, AFROPUNK Contributor
The album kicks off with a retro string orgy courtesy of legendary film composer Hans Zimmer, who provides string arrangements throughout the album. “Marilyn Monroe” marries neo-soul to retro film score, setting up a theme that continues throughout the album. While plundering the Stax vaults has been the hot trend for a few years now (I'll be honest: I am in no way shape or form over this trend yet. Everything that reminds me how great Isaac Hayes was in his heyday is a good thing.), Pharrell is more intent on being the heir to Marvin Gaye. Williams could probably benefit from some of The Prince of Soul's social consciousness, he's but certainly got the effortless charisma down.
James Brown guitars dominate the album, blending with Zimmer's strings, a rush of soul claps, and flourishes of Pharrell's Neptunes production (which despite decades of imitation still sound futuristic). The sound is a brilliant mix of retro and futuristic; the kind that powers Janelle Monae's robot army. “Happy” here is still an infectious burst of joy (cynical punk as I may be, I can't deny it.), and “Gust of Wind” (featuring Daft Punk) is the rare kind of song that I think I can be OK with being overplayed. Producers traditionally work solo, and it's a testament to Pharrell's confidence as an artist and sincerity that he brings on a pair of high profile co-producers for “Gust of Wind.” At the height of The Neptune's power, I don't think anyone would have predicted an odder combination of Pharell, Daft Punk, and Hans Zimmer collaborating on a beat. But it works gloriously.
The other big highlight is “Lost Queen,” which is a sweet antidote to the album's occasional tendency to indulge in Robin Thicke “I know you want it” ick. (To his credit, Pharrell comes off more like Prince's ultra-confident hopeless romantic poet, than Thicke's guy who won't leave you alone at the party.) G I R L is an homage to women, but “Lost Queen” is where he shows an interest in more than just getting lucky. We all love a sexy slow jam, but the depth of a track like “Lost Queen” is the difference between an album you only bust out with the scented candles, and one that has the potential to shape the next few years of pop music.