If you’re surprised that G I R L marks only Pharrell’s second solo album, you’re not alone. The mad hatted half of The Neptunes has been involved with so much music over the last 15 years that his first solo album, 2006’s In My Mind, typically gets swept under the rug. Pharrell probably enjoys that album’s relative obscurity because, compared to the rest of his immaculate catalog, it wasn’t great.
But here we are, eight years later with G I R L. And if In My Mind sucked because it represented a vanity that Pharrell now looks back upon with disgust, then G I R L succeeds in how the seemingly ageless 40 year old achieved a maturity that’s embedded itself in everything he’s done recently.
Pharrell’s angling to become your summer soundtrack–again
God damn Pharrell. Over the past year, his work with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke has ensured you can’t get him out of your head. Where songs like “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines” succeed is how they sneakily remain with listeners after pressing stop. These singles–and G I R L as an album–don’t wallop listeners with big, bounding sounds. They’re slow-burning distillations of funk, soul and pop that reel listeners in and ensnare them in a vice.
G I R L has its obvious singles. Look no further than “Happy” or the sunny “Brand New.” But other cuts like “Gust of Wind” and “It Girl” reward listeners after repeated spins. Sure, they might not appear on top-40 radio, but they blend in perfectly on an album that features several that conceivably could.
46 minutes, ten songs, one theme: women
Really, that’s all G I R L is. In speaking with GQ about creating the album after such a long hiatus as a solo artist, Pharrell mentioned that the album would succeed if he just put purpose into it. Purpose can expose itself in different ways, but with G I R L it’s found in Pharrell’s awareness to not bog the album down with superfluous sh*t. Every song might sound the same–a different take about women over some gorgeous yacht-rock sh*t–but with a tight tracklisting and a uniform theme, the songs’ similarities are blessings and not curses.
Which isn’t to say that the songs couldn’t have been tweaked
Album opener “Marilyn Monroe” is just under six minutes. “It Girl” is nearly five minutes. While both songs have plenty of positives–“Marilyn Monroe”‘s uptempo vibes; “It Girl”‘s jazzy and sexy declarations of love–they’re a minute or two too long. G I R L‘s an incredibly pleasing album, but it becomes grating when its songs noodle on and on. Because the tracks aren’t as multi-dimensional and layered as, say, those from Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE (the irony being that Pharrell contributed “Sweet Life” to that album), there’s no reason any of these songs should ramble past three and a half minutes–or, in the case of “Hunter” and “Gush,” feel longer than they are.
Always write what you know
This is Pharrell from that same GQ profile, re-evaluating his diamond-encrusted Rubik’s Cube he’d purchased during his In My Mind days: “I was out of my mind. It was ridiculous. But that’s how caught up I was.” Obviously he wrote about what he knew at that point, which was living like a wealthy musician. Perhaps more obvious is how little that sort of subject matter translates to the general listening public.
G I R L isn’t going to just hook listeners through its sounds. Dedicating an entire album to women, singing their praises, “you the it girl, hey hey, my inspiration” (“It Girl”), or flirting with them, “taxidermy is on my walls/With the full description of the killin’ calls/I’m a hunter” (“Hunter”) will also draw in more people, especially the sex it’s about. He’s not rapping about double-decker boats anymore, although he could, and that’s artistic growth that should be applauded.