Pharrell – “G I R L”

(Photo Credit: Hollywood Reporter)

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “Hunter” “Gust of Wind”

This was a risky time for Pharrell to release a solo album. He’s riding the waves of one of the most successful years someone in music can have. He had guest spots on the two biggest songs of last summer – “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines,” and he co-wrote and produced two songs on Beyonce’s instant-legend self-titled album. He wore a silly, hip-hop-historical and now famous hat to the Grammy’s, and he released a 24 hour music video for his big hit, “Happy.” Pharrell is, nowadays, now famous for producing and guest spots, hugely overshadowing his solo work and his music with N.E.R.D. and the Neptunes. So if “G I R L” were to be underwhelming, it would likely derail the ever-increasing speed of the train that Pharrell is at the helm of. Luckily, “G I R L” is a sufficient pop release. It isn’t the most memorable of albums, but it strongly benefits from an all-inviting sound, a consistent feminist agenda, and huge name guest spots from Pharrell’s long, long contact list.

Pharrell tried to hit all bases with “G I R L,” and he certainly succeeds. It’s sexy – like the sweaty “Hunter.” It’s classy, with opener “Marilyn Monroe.” And it’s friendly – centered around the smash hit “Happy,” which seems to actually be stylized on the album as “Happy (from Despicable Me 2).” You know, the kids movie. The very next song is “Come Get It Bae,” featuring the not-family-friendly Miley Cyrus. Whatever your fancy is with pop music, “G I R L” likely hits it.

The guest spots, though usually not the focus of a review, are something to marvel at. As mentioned, Miley drops in. And so do Alicia Keys, Daft Punk, Kelly Osbourne, a very falsetto-y Justin Timberlake, Timbaland (relegated to beatboxing) and, unpredictably, JoJo. And the strings on the album – arranged by Hans Zimmer. The cast on this album reads like a Wes Anderson movie. And just like an Anderson film – some of the appearances are solely based on “look who I got to be here!,” while some, especially Daft Punk, add a whole level of depth and help separate each track from the next.

And it’s good that each song is distinct enough to stand out – because Pharrell, on his own, isn’t actually all that strong. The rare moments when he raps on the album work, but otherwise, his voice usually just blends into the background. Think about “Happy” – his voice only overpowers the music because the music is minimal during the chorus, and it’s catchy because of how his voice acts as an instrument, not for the lyrics. There are moments where he ups into falsetto, and he really doesn’t hit the notes. There are a couple moments were it resembles watching a Top 12 American Idol giving what you just know is their last performance. It just isn’t quite there, overall. But it’s a boatload of fun, so it’s never an issue.

“G I R L” is all linked together by a distinctly feministic tone. It’s almost possible to see this – and “Get Lucky” and his work on Beyonce’s album – as an apology for the gut-wrechnigly misogynist (and possibly divorce-causing) “Blurred Lines.” Pharrell sometimes skirts the lines of male pop feminism – respecting women’s bodies and sexual desires, etc., and sometimes fully delves into actual feminism. It helps to create a consistent tone, and let’s be real, it’s just nice to hear. Inviting feminist-leaning artists like Daft Punk, Timberlake and the severely misunderstood Miley Cyrus only helps that. The era of patriarchal sex-pop is coming to a close, and Pharrell seems to be the one locking the doors.

So “G I R L” only suffers from Pharrell himself not being the most talented singer. And given that this is his first solo album in eight years, it’s not his specialty. He produced the whole album, and wrote every song, much more his strong suits. The album is not the most memorable, because it all feels familiar. But it’s still enjoyable and every song is unique. It sounds by the books, if every song was taken from a different book than the one previous. “G I R L” is a listen for those of all ages and musical preferences. There’s something for everyone, and his “music for everyone” approach helps to bolster the feminist themes. “G I R L” won’t be one of the albums of the year, but it’s a more than decent pop release, and one that will help Pharrell continue his unstoppable reign.

-By Andrew McNally

Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”

Daft Punk

Grade: B+

I’m one of those rare people that’s never really been onboard with Daft Punk. I’ve rarely found their music as entrancing and intriguing as most. The robot suits, to me, have seemed like an act more than an output of the music, which I’d already seen (better) in Kraftwerk. And I never cared for the repetitive rhythms and lyrics of their hits, and of club music in general. “One More Time” will grab me every now and then, but I see nothing in it beyond catchiness. “Around the World” has for years been a throwaway song to me, totally pointless and obnoxiously repetitive.

But “Random Access Memories,” admittedly, sucked me in. The first two tracks – “Give Life Back to Music” and “The Game of Love” did little for me, and were perhaps not the most momentous songs to open an album with. But the album’s third and longest track, “Giorgio by Moroder” roped me in more than any other dance song ever has. The song is winding and experimental, incorporating many instruments in a building rhythm. After the epic ends, the album twists into a peak of very danceable songs that never stretch into unnecessary lengths, and feature some great collaborations with Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), Pharrell Williams and legendary songwriter Paul Williams, all of whom contribute to some genuinely funky rhythms.

The album continues to flow in segments, as the last few tracks feature just the duo more prominently, largely devoid of collaborators and focusing more on a stripped-down, electronica sound. “Beyond” is the most traditionally Daft Punk track on the record, with the typical repetitive, faint robot vocals, and is one of the album’s weak points. But the largely instrumental tracks “Motherboard” and “Contact,” the closer, bring the album to a momentous end, and allow the group to experiment with their music and break out of their repetitive habits.

The duo stray further away from EDM and electronica on this record, their fourth. The danceable tracks actually feature funky guitar rhythms over electronica, at points. At moments on this record, Daft Punk sound like more than a duo, incorporating many instruments into their swooping songs. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve already heard the album and have formed an opinion of it. When the band streamed it on Pitchfork, the world went crazy. People are down with whatever Daft Punk has to offer and, on this album, it’s a whole helping of everything. I do believe that I am a converted fan, at least for now.

Key Tracks: “Giorgio by Moroder,” “Contact”

-Andrew McNally