Safe just isn’t good enough with Pharrell’s new album

8faf4b40PHARRELL has had one of the oddest careers in music.

He began as one half of the super producer group The Neptunes – along with his childhood friend Chad Hugo – and produced some of the biggest hits of the early 2000s. Songs like: ‘Hot in Here’ by Nelly, ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ by Snoop Dogg, ‘Hollaback Girl’ by Gwen Stefani and dozens other major pop/rap songs. They basically redefined what a pop song should sound like. This continued right up until the mid 00s when they collapsed in on themselves, both in sales and quality.

What seemed to have happened was a combination of two things: 1) They had flooded the marketplace with their production so it had grown stale and 2) EDM inspired beats were becoming more and more popular, pushing out more ‘traditional’ pop production. So The Neptunes pretty much disappeared from the mainstream after 2006.

Be that as it may, Pharrell’s ageless head popped back up again fairly recently as he started to produce by himself. Most notably, he made a really great beats for both Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean on their respective break out albums: GOOD Kid in a MAAD City and Channel Orange. Then, quite suddenly, he was featured on ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk and then the ‘Pharrellnaissance’ began. Suddenly, Pharrell was once again in the mainstream and the rest is history.

So I met G I R L with some excitement, despite Pharrell in interviews saying that “it’s not perfect”. Sadly, my hype for the album was rather unfounded. What Pharrell has made is a rather boring and bland contemporary R&B album, made with one eye on the bank. From a producer whose career was based on risk taking, it is very disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the man is an enjoyable singer, it’s just this entire album feels so empty and soulless.

The album begins strong with ‘Marilyn Monroe’ – a five minute song dedicated to women who are a bit different. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable song with that classic jittery production The Neptunes had, plus the chorus is nice and the beat change keeps the song interesting. The second song, ‘Brand New’ featuring Justin Timberlake however, is a fairly inconsequential song. It is so unmemorable I honestly can’t say much about it. G I R L remains like this up until ‘Happy’ comes on roughly half way through. But the generic pop music starts again straight after with the fairly awful ‘Come Get It Babe’ featuring Miley Cyrus. This, as it turns out, heralds the coming the songs that finish off the album. ‘Lost Queen’ is egregiously terrible. It feels like a song cut from Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience Part 2 with its extended length and boring beat. ‘I Know Who You Are’, the song that follows on from ‘Lost Queen’, is simply OK; Alicia Keys’ voice blasts apart Pharrell’s reedy vocals with ease, making the song her own. It’s a shame that the only highlight is Alicia Keys’ singing, the rest is just dull. The album ends with a dull squib called ‘It Girl’. The song feels like a hideous amalgamation of country, pop and R&B. It’s a thudding disaster.

I have glossed over two songs: ‘Happy’ and ‘Gust Of Wind’ because they deserve a closer inspection. The inclusion of ‘Happy’ on this album is the biggest indication how much of a cash grab this entire album is. It was announced it was going to be a single whilst it was already number one in the charts! It feels like Pharrell and the label just crowbarred it onto the album so G I R L can be sold as The Album That Has Happy On It instead of speaking for itself (although it would be a worse album if ‘Happy’ wasn’t on there). It stands out like an incredibly sore thumb. ‘Gust Of Wind’,  is also a really good song. But, much like ‘Happy’, it’s on the album because of the popularity of ‘Get Lucky’ and, as a result, it sounds like a bad rip off of any of the songs on Random Access Memories.

Ultimately, G I R L is an album people will put on for background music. Any closer inspection reveals an album that is suffused with generic hooks, vocals, production and writing. Pharrell could’ve probably made any album he wanted and yet he took the safe route. Sure he might have deserved it after all those years of pushing the envelope until it burst in his face. But in a genre that is starting to gain back some of its artistic integrity with artists like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Miguel, safe just isn’t good enough.