The Transformation of Pharrell

Besides extensive production credits, Pharrell has kept quiet on the side of making his own music since 2010's N.E.R.D. release. But towards the end of 2013, we started seeing signs of life with singles like “Happy” with Despicable Me 2 and his inclusion on production and appearances on Daft Punk’s GRAMMY Album of the Year-winning Random Access Memories. But it still wasn’t for sure if Pharrell would return to N.E.R.D. or release his second full-length solo album, a follow up to 2006's rap-focused In My Mind. Some might be under the impression that G I R L would be the hip-hop flooded second album that it probably should have been, but instead, Pharrell sticks to the model that helped he and Daft Punk win their GRAMMY.

G I R L is 100%, no holes barred, an R&B/pop record. It’s obvious how much of Pharrell’s style has changed with his work, particularly from working with Justin Timberlake on the high vocal stylings of “Brand New”. But the changes and influence don’t stop there. In fact, it’s obvious that a few of these cuts were likely recorded with Timberlake and his producer Timbaland in the room. Longer tracks aren’t abundant throughout Pharrell’s second album, but simplistic R&B style hooks (think a continuation of “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke on “Come Get It Bae”, except with Miley Cyrus this time) and clap on percussion is rampant. And it’s clear he learned a few things he liked from the French electronic duo, as evidenced on the Daft Punk-produced (and sleek) “Gust Of Wind”. It’s almost as if Timberlake and Daft Punk were guiding Pharrell to make a combination of The 20/20 Experience and Random Access Memories. In fact, if those two albums combined, they’d make most of what songs make up G I R L.

It’s a solid fusion of new, grooving R&B, simple sing-a-long pop, and Pharrell’s seductiveness. “Lost Queen” is the lone lackluster track on the 10-track album, mainly because unlike JT’s eight minute tracks that keep you invested for most of the cut, Pharrell takes the volume nearly all the way down to a simple crashing wave after three and a half minutes. When the beat does finally come back, it’s simply not enough to salvage the song from being skipped. Thankfully, Pharrel goes back to his formula on “Know Who You Are”, featuring the talented Alicia Keys on the hook. It’s a reggae-fueled jam track giving the ladies a track to sing loud in the car, celebrating freedom to be who they are. It’s tracks like this which set Pharrell apart from the trash-laced songs like “Blurred Lines”. Many of the cuts on G I R Ldiscuss empowerment of women and giving them a reason to be proud of who they are, and it’s appreciated, when so much of the radio is filled with objectification.

“It Girl” rounds out the 10-song set, and concludes the impressive, yet simplistic album. While Pharrell might not be pushing any boundaries with G I R L, it’s refreshing to see him continue to evolve as not only a producer, but as a musical artist and take what he’s learned from his collaborators, using it to his advantage. The beats are solid, the vocals are above average, and the album as whole is a hit. They might not all be radio hits like “Happy” is, but they make for a great listening experience.

Justin Mabee