Album review: Pharrell Williams' 'G I R L' will make you 'Happy'
Pharrell Williams’ “G I R L” may open with a flourish of strings and have a few tastefully arranged string parts scattered throughout (courtesy of Williams’ scoring collaborator, composer and arranger Hans Zimmer), but the album is anything but high minded.The whole idea with with “G I R L” is to have some fun.
The terminally upbeat album, out today, highlights Williams’ strength: he makes really crisp, sonically pleasing songs that reference his influences, such as Michael Jackson, and his colleagues, like Justin Timberlake. This is pop music that aims to lift your spirits in the moment. Even if it evaporates into thin air shortly thereafter and is not particularly inventive, the music on “G I R L” is an enjoyable diversion.
As the title suggests, “G I R L,” Williams’ first solo album since 2006’s “In My Mind,” covers the fairer sex and Williams’ desires for women who are attainable and women who are not. On album opener, “Marilyn Monroe,” Williams lavishes praise on a woman who tops the song’s titular character as well as Cleopatra and even Joan of Arc. Spiky and bouncy, the song is propelled by a “Beat It”-like back beat and hindered by a dropped-in spoken word segment from Kelly Osbourne.
“Brand New,” which features Timberlake, talks about a love so new that it feels like “the tag’s still on me,” an adorably fresh notion helped by Williams’ facile falsetto. “Hunter,” with its stalker air, would be a little creepy, were it not for Diana Ross’s “Upside Down”-era perky groove.
Williams has had a great year, due to his features on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” as well as “Happy,” the Oscar-nominated first single here from “Despicable Me 2.”
The irrepressibly buoyant tune is the best thing on “G I R L,” although “Come And Get It Bae,” featuring Miley Cyrus, is a close second and could be Williams’ own “Blurred Lines.” Lyrically, it uses Prince’s trick of transportation as sexual metaphor: in this case, he asks if you want to ride his motorcycle, but you have to promise to take it easy on the clutch. Cyrus’ bridge is good, but the song has already achieved lift off long before she drops by.
Not everything works: the swagger of “Gush” and his faux protestations that “mama didn’t raise me that way” as he declares he wants to “set that ass on fire,” seems even more out of place as strings swell in the background; “Lost Queen” is dreamy and sexy, but a little too trippy for the rest of the album’s lightweight tone, especially when he sings “gotta go inward to experience the outer space that was built for you.” Alicia Keys takes over “Know Who You Are,” an empowerment song with an island beat, that, given the two talents involved, should be stronger.
“G I R L” ends with “It Girl,” a delectable, slinky loose-grooved track that recalls Earth Wind & Fire.
Throughout “G I R L,” Williams may wear his influences on his sleeve a little too much, but there’s no doubting the impeccable choices he makes here and in these sometimes dark times, his desire to simply make us all “Happy,” is a noble pursuit indeed.