Review: Pharrell’s ‘G I R L’ Album Swaps Small Risks For Big Rewards

Pharrell Williams can put in the hours. Last year, the Neptunes alum helped out with Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, a delightfully ADD buffet of disco, soft rock and blue-eyed soul that won every award conceivable. Pharrell also laced “Blurred Lines” for Robin Thicke, 2 Chainz’s “Feds Watching” and the diaristic stunner “Burgundy” for Earl Sweatshirt. More recently, he had maybe the hardest verse on Future’s mind-meltingly great “Move That Dope.” None of the songs listed above sound remotely alike, either. Dude is a self-challenger with one of pop’s heartiest work ethics. Pharrell takes a deserved breather on G I R L. While the record is solidly made and glistens with state-of-the-art sheen, it lacks the curiosity and fusionism of his past experiments with Daft Punk, Kenna and Spymob—these are four-chord pop songs about knocking boots. There is a time and a place for undemanding pop fare, though, and Skateboard P excels at it. G I R L might not be a devastating colossus like Random Access Memories or Clipse’s Neptunes-produced Hell Hath No Fury, but it’s an awful lot of fun. Here’s a 13 thought breakdown of the superproducer’s latest offering. —M.T. Richards
1. Whatever its flaws, G I R L is a considerable step up from Pharrell’s 2006 snoozer In My Mind, which was polished to a fault. “Number One” may still be the worst song ever to involve Kanye West in any capacity. 2. In fairness, though, G I R L could have used some revising before P turned it in to the suits at Columbia. His lyrics are sometimes subpar—“I’ma light that ass on fire,” goes the hook to “Gush,” referencing his 2003 collabo with Busta Rhymes—and he asks too little of his guests. 3. Justin Timberlake, who cameos on “Brand New,” is much pretty dead weight; Daft Punk’s unappealing chorus on “Gust of Wind” is the height of vocoder overkill. 4. Pharrell raps three or four bars on the raunchy, riotous “Hunter,” affecting a high register that is almost Blondie-like. Otherwise he croons the entirety of G I R L in a shy falsetto. 5. While Pharrell’s voice is thin, he’s a terrific songwriter with a knack for good-natured, ingeniously simple pop ditties. 6. The first half of G I R L is straight-up disco: overdubbed strings, Bee Gees shrieks, palm-muted guitars, everything. “Marylyn Monroe” sounds like the B-side to M.J.’s “Workin’ Day and Night.” It’s fantastic. 7. “Happy,” Pharrell’s family-friendly jawn off the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, still holds up. The handclap-driven track is bubbly but not overbearingly so. 8. In the “Happy” video, Tyler, the Creator is seen smiling widely and dancing on an L.A. sidewalk. That image continues to warm the curdles of our hearts. I’m relieved that he’s still intermittently capable of having fun. 9. The Miley Cyrus-assisted “Come Get It Bae” is the worst track on G I R L by orders of magnitude. It is, in a phrase, wildly tacky. That girl-as-motorcycle metaphor? No thanks. 10. “Lost Queen,” Skateboard P’s love letter to an extraterrestrial of the fairer sex, shouldn’t work but does. He sells it with that very Pharrell combination of dovish modesty and mischievous charisma. 11. G I R L closes with the tender Alicia Keys duet “Know Who You Are,” which coasts on a loping, UB40-like rhythm that will surely soundtrack many picnics this spring. 12. The meanness and condescension of a song like N.E.R.D.’s “Everyone Nose” (about coke-addled socialites) is altogether absent here. Pharrell has genuine admiration for the female form, and it’s refreshing. That positivity is G I R L’s single best asset. 13. There you have it: a charming, cynicism-free album. G I R L is the equivalent of a feel-good popcorn movie, and while it takes few risks, it makes fewer mistakes.