MIMO - When Music is Your Fix

Pharrell Should be Happy About “G I R L”—Album Review

Columbia/Black Lot (2014)

It’s the hat. It’s gotta be the hat. Maybe that oversized mountain hat is a good luck charm on Pharrell Williams’ latest album G I R L. His latest effort oozes charm, throwback soul grooves, symphonic strings and well… joy. Lyrics are light, thankful, generally uncomplicated, sometimes awkward, and often quirky. It just makes you “Happy” – like his worldwide smash hit.

“Happy” (from the film Despicable Me 2), which Pharrell performed at the Oscars while Ellen collected pizza money with his hat, is a hand-clapping anthem featuring a simple 1960’s doo-wop sound that got everyone (even Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo) dancing. The choir section harmonizes perfectly to Pharrell’s uniquely falsetto voice; “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof,” he sings.  With so much negative blues and braggadacio in hip-hop today, the charm of this song (and album) is that it celebrates the simplest desire in life: happiness.  If Pharrell’s music video (of regular people singing the song) is any indication, the carefree groove is like a skip in the step to 99 million viewers.

Pharrell’s first album since 2006 drops guests Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, JoJo and Alicia Keys.  Being that Pharrell’s greatest muse is women, it’s fitting that the album opens with a song titled after one of the greatest female muses of all time. “Marilyn Monroe” features lush theatrical strings and bass-licking guitar that vamp like the famous glamour puss in a Hollywood flick. Ironically, however, the song is not in honor of the blonde bombshell, but of unique, everyday, “different girls”.

“I wanted to reverse the connotation behind these statuesque standards of what beauty has to be,” Pharrell told MTV News. “That which makes you different is actually the thing that makes you special.”  Well, bump this tune in a club, and even different girls can feel like glam goddess Marilyn Monroe for the night.

“Brand New” is a duet with Justin Timberlake’s falsetto (why hasn’t this happened more often?). It hits us with semi-tribal beats, echoing horns and odd lyrics: “Got the tags still on me / Jumpin’ round in your bag”.  But basically, “Brand New” is a sunrise, an ode to a girl making a man feel reborn. “Hunter” has Pharrell on the loose with a slapping guitar twang that throws back to 70’s funk.  Male sex panting gets you snapping as Pharrell tells a girl, “Hey baby sex his calling.” What woman wouldn’t want to be his prey?   “Gush” is a bit more brazen, but it’s really peek-a-boo sex.  Pharrell hides behind the swag with, “I don’t know what’s come over me / My momma didn’t raise me that way.” Uh-huh. Like a teenager thinking dirty thoughts before mom walks in the room.  (Oh, speaking of throwbacks, Pharrell even references to his own earlier hits; telling the girl he wants to “Light Tshat Azz on Fire”).

“Gust of Wind” sees Pharrell auto-tuning, but he doesn’t completely abandon real instruments. Thank God for strings! (Note to rappers: Strings make everything grander). While not a radio hit, “Lost Queen” is also interesting. Pharrell’s now asking a girl from another planet if he can “serve her”. Feels respectful. Feels kind. We like.  It’s nice to hear Alicia Key’s trademark swag on “Know Who You Are,” which is, unfortunately, an otherwise bland track.  But Pharrell takes us right back into the new jack swang with “It Girl.”  He must have been hanging with The Bee-Gees on this one (salute to Barry Gibb), because all we see are shiny disco balls in this jam!  Pharrell uses his falsetto like a weapon, and for an album aimed at girls and women – he hits his target.  Pharrell said he made the album with his eyes closed.  Well, we like what he saw.

The versatile artist and producer combined all the skills of his enviable career, with joy, gratitude, a zest for life and musical rebirth. Feels like an identity stamp for him. Feels like a refreshing breath of fresh air for hip-hop. G I R L makes girls (and guys) just feel happy.

Oh and by the way, Arby’s bought Pharrell’s mountain hat for $44,100.  Guess they’re happy too.

4 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Mic check 1,2,1,2. Not the words you expect to bust out of Orange County, California, but that's where Deborah Jane found her funk. Daughter of Guyanese immigrants, Deborah grew up in an all-white suburb where she was one of the only black kids in her school. (Fun fact: She didn't make her first black friend until attending Stanford University). Hip-hop gave her a voice and helped her discover her roots. Now she is an emcee and writer who both spits raps and writes editorials, TV shows and films - especially hip-hop musicals!

At Stanford, she wrote and produced an award-winning hip-hop musical, Strange Fruit: The Hip-Hopera (www.strangefruithiphopera.com) - now in development as a feature film. Deborah also launched her hip-hip theatre webseries, The HOTT (www.youtube.com/TheHOTTtv), published in Urban Cusp Magazine. Currently, she is penning her first hip-hop album, Do You Love Me Deborah Jane? And do you? She truly hopes you all love her.

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Posted in: Album Reviews, Featured, Hip Hop Music


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