By Kelly Carmichael
Released March 3rd, 2014 - Sony Music
Pharrell Williams was always an incredible talent. For two decades he's been a prolific recording artist and something of a power behind the throne as producer of hits for Kelis, Nelly and Beyonce among others. Now the celebrated American performer-producer has landed his first number 1 album with the recently released G I R L, the fastest-selling album of 2014 so far.
Its a great come back from a mixed bag of a year in 2013 which saw Pharrell contribute to the year's two biggest singles - Get Lucky by Daft Punk and Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines - and also get tied up in the backlash that Blurred Lines and its misogyny generated. By 2014, however, he was ready for a dazzling second act. Kicked off by performing his hit Happy from G I R L at the Academy Awards, Pharrell cemented his status as a mass audience pop star.
Written for the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, the Motown inflected Happy is great song and most of the album is as carefree as its hit single. None of the other tracks are as overtly joyful and charming as the catchy hit, but throughout G I R L Pharrell shows an appreciation of and talent for recasting relentlessly great pop, soul and R&B beats. The album is loaded with luscious orchestration - thanks to the contribution of renowned film composer Hans Zimmer - duets, buoyant romanticism and playful sexuality.
There's something of the Jackson 5 in the first featured collaboration, a duet with Justin Timberlake titledBrand New. Here the falsetto harmonies that Pharrell and Timberlake excel at duel over the disco funk, plucked base notes and conga rhythm of the track. Its upbeat sound and hook that sings of the rejuvenating power of love is positive, unselfconscious and pretty indicative of the rest of the album.
The album's sexual commentary in tracks like Hunter, Gush - G I R L's most explicit sex jam - or Come Get It Baefeaturing Miley Cyrus, is celebratory rather than predatory, but that's not to say it isn't a little awkward or cheesy at times. But Pharrell is an exhilarating performer and there's charming braininess to him as a musician and producer. The tone of this album flips from luscious strings to the tribal humming on Lost Queenvia 70s funk and back again. G I R L is an enjoyable and buoyant listen, but offers an astuteness and sophistication behind the rush of pop hits.