By Aaron Whyte
Oh, Pharrell. Firstly, we want whatever fountain of youth you’re drinking from, and secondly we want to know the secret of how you’ve managed to convice an entire planet to re-embrace your early-2000s vibe. Not that this is a complaint – Pharrell’s “G I R L” (yes, that’s two spaces and a caps-lock to emphasise his love of the fairer sex) marks a return to form for the man who all but disappeared from the public conscience until last summer, and turns out to be a bit spiritual re-awakening for the ladies’ man (just look at that album cover. You know there’s been some fresh-to-death romping going on).
So, G I R L – nope, not irritating to type that at all – kicks off with Marilyn Monroe and Brand New, finding Pharrell swapping verses with that other vagina-botherer du jour Justin Timberlake, explaining how the love of a woman can change your outlook on life. Meanwhile, Hunter is P Willy’s attempt to see the world from a woman’s perspective: “If I can’t have you nobody can/ It’s an animals instinct to hunt you down.” Crikey.
As far as slightly onomatopoeic song titles go, ‘Gush’ ranks up as the most uncomfortable to say alongside anything utilising the word ‘moist’. It’s once again a dedication to the worship of the female form – complete with lavish strings, a Michael Jackson vibe, and the amazing lyrics “Do you want to get dirty girl?/ Light that ass on fire.” But of course, this is Pharrell and not Robin Thicke, so it’s quickly followed up with the apology: “I don’t know what came over me/ My mother didn’t raise me that way”. (Of course she didn’t. Kids, if your mother raises you to light an ass on fire, tell social services immediately.)
The ubiquitous Happy is given a new context amongst these wife-worshipping memoirs, and it’s all the better for it. Elsewhere we find Pharrell bringing in his A-list pals like Miley Cyrus for the slightly misfiring “Come Get It Bae”, a country-R&B jam that’s no 4×4. Human helmets Daft Punk appear for the moreish Gust Of Wind – a little bit sickly, but it’s still a bit better than most of Random Access Memories.
Lost Queen continues the earthy theme with tribal drumming and odd vocal samples, but keep an ear out for the hidden interlude Freq, which features JoJo (‘member her?) over a dazzlingly atmospheric string arrangement that reminds us of early Kelis. Alicia Keys pops up on You Know Who You Are, a reggae-tinged track that will probably be bothering wedding playlists in the near future. Album closer It Girl delivers on the promise that was hinted at in the intro to Nelly’s Hot In Herre (just the intro part) – seemingly taking that idea and turning it into a whole track. No bad thing, and that outro is pure sex-funk.
There is a tendency at times for G I R L to be a little one-note in its theme, and it’s very difficult to not view some of it as an over-compensation from Pharrell after the Blurred Lines furore. Sure, it’s an excellent and very enjoyable album from pop’s late bloomer – refreshing, celebratory and even at times spiritual – but would a follow-up called W O M A N be too much of a stretch? In any case, at least we can happily delete In My Mind from our hard drives and pretend it never happened. So well done, Pharrell.