Pharrell Williams is undoubtedly one of the most talented individuals alive today. His career spans over an incredible number of industries and media formats. His empire includes two clothing lines (Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream Clothing), a multi-media collective under the umbrella title i Am Other, an educational charity From One Hand To Another, the record label Star Trak, a production duo with school friend Chad Hugo under the name The Neptunes, the band N*E*R*D which he fronted and played the drums for and he even makes jewellery and furniture. The 40 year old has found the most success in the music industry, however not as an artist in his own right, although he has achieved significant success alone. His real success, and passion, lies in the production side of the music industry. In 2003 Pharrell and Chad Hugo, as The Neptunes, were responsible for almost 20% of all songs played on British radio that year, and 43% of all tracks played on US radio for the same year. 46%. That figure is barely even comprehendible. However once again Pharrell’s name is on everyone’s lips, following collaborations of both of the highest selling tracks of 2013, the extremely controversial Robin Thicke track Blurred Lines, also featuring T.I., and Daft Punk’s super-hit Get Lucky with Nile Rodgers, as well as having created the sound track for both Despicable Me films today, the second of which featured the lead single from G I R L, Happy. This album is only his second as a solo artist, following 2006’s In My Mind, but I expect an almost polar opposite sound, following the incredible changes he has been through since then, and the sheer quantity of music created by him since then.
The album has an air of sheer ecstasy throughout, like a child which has eaten far too many blue Smarties. While this produces a very feel good mood, and essentially forms good pop music, it is at the expense of any real meaning in the album. The sound therefore is unfortunately a little flimsy, the kind that would snap in a good breeze. While a little disappointing, the album is good for pop music, I just hoped for more from such an established album. The artist attempts to give the album meaning through the likes of the album track as a kind of backing to feminism, which feels like an overenthusiastic apology off the back of the controversy created by Blurred Lines. Overall, therefore, a bit of a disappointing release for the artist.
The album opens with the sound of viola, with generally positive overtones. A beat then gets thrown into the mix, with Pharrell’s iconic vocals talking about historically powerful women, including Marilyn Munroe, who lends her name to the title of the track, Cleopatra and Joan of Arc. It is fair to say, therefore, that the title of this album is not targeted in the way which may be assumed. Instead, at least in the opening track, the feeling of the album seems to be about female power. The chorus is catchy in the best possible way, with Pharrell’s incredibly smooth voice helping to form a pure pop track. Brand New follows, with the guest voice of Justin Timberlake. It is a risky move for a singer to feature on the same track as P, who continuously seems to out-perform every artist with which he collaborates, however here Timberlake manages to keep up, again forming a track moulded in sheer pop, with brass instruments adding to the happiness of the track. Hunter takes influence almost directly from the likes of Stevie Wonder, with funk giving the track a feeling rarely seen in modern music. The theme of the track goes back to what I believed to be implied by the album title, ‘if I can’t have you nobody can’, ‘going to hunt you’ etc. This is a stark reminder of the controversy surrounding Blurred Lines, leading to many student unions banning the track due to ‘questionable’ themes and lyricism. This is disappointing, where the rest of the album acts as an apparent apology for his involvement in that track. Gush starts off like a hip hop track, but the use of electronic guitar returns the track to the Pharrell feeling. This track is less impressive, especially following Hunter. We have all, by now, heard the infectious track Happy, from Despicable Me 2. The track verges on being irritating throughout, with apparently nonsensical lyrics, ‘clap along if you feel like a house without a roof’, and gospel style clapping throughout, however actually the overall product is fine. As mentioned above the mood is infectious, passing on the obvious feeling of the artist on writing of the track. Equally the track does work extremely well in the film, however it isn’t the best release of the artist as a standalone single. Come Get It Bae is an odd track, with an unusual chorus and title, but the production has layers including electric guitar alongside a bass heavy beat. Gust Of Wind is a little more soulful, while not leaving the theme of sheer ecstatic happiness. There is the inclusion of electronic voice editing, which gives the track a different feeling for a moment, and again the lyrics are questionable in terms of meaning and depth, for example ‘when I open the window I want to hug you, because you remind me of the air’, but again the track essentially forms a pure pop song. I feel that Lost Queen’s production, while again unusual, is more interesting. The drum beat is almost the same style as trap music, but the mood is so far separated from this genre that it is effectively neutralised, as if fearful of offending anyone. The chorus is extremely catchy again, in true Pharrell style. The track effectively breaks half way through, to be replaced with the sound of waves, which is in fact extremely relaxing. This then becomes a similar beat and style of track as Happy, except featuring string instruments and more drums. Know Who You Are has a very-nearly-reggae feeling to it. The guitar is definitely following a reggae beat, but the bass appears more free roaming. The incredibly soulful Alicia Keys joins in this track, one of the very few artists that can top Pharrell’s vocal talent. It Girl opens with some very impressive bass work, and is the first track on the album to slow, not only the pace, but the mood down. The track appears to have another layer of depth, not yet seen in the album.