I don’t idolize many people. If you ask me who I look up to, I will selfishly answer “NO ONE,” trying to come off as a completely original, uninfluenced man, which is not the case. The short list of famous people I worship has been unchanging since I was in middle school, and has always been made up of Steven Tyler, Gwen Stefani, and Pharrell.
You’re familiar with Pharrell, right? Right. You know him from dominating the airwaves this summer, showing up on two of the most (over)played songs of the year with his vocals on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and producing and singing on Robin Thicke’s delightfully problematic “Blurred Lines.” You’ve probably even heard his new single “Happy” from "Despicable Me 2," which is also featured in a Beats Pill commercial, and now happens to be decimating radio.
In case you aren’t aware of just what makes Pharrell a near-perfect person, let me give you a quick summary. In the late nineties, Pharrell made up one half of the production duo The Neptunes, who produced a staggering amount of the most successful songs of the late 1990s and 2000s. They had the biggest role in shaping the sound of the new millennium.
Everything, everything The Neptunes touched was a smash. The list of artists they collaborated with is as familiar scrolling through your iTunes: Busta, Clipse, Gwen, Jay, Justin, Luda, Mariah, Snoop. In September of 2003, a survey found that The Neptunes had produced 43% of the songs played on American radio. Think about that.
Most important (to me), The Neptunes gave us Britney’s “I’m A Slave 4 U.”
In 2006, Pharrell released his first solo album which, oddly, underwhelmed. Unbothered, he went back to producing, featuring, designing, and being an overall mainstay in pop culture. Next week, Pharrell is set to release his second solo album, and if the early buzz is any indication, he’s got a massive success on his hands.
G I R L is everything we love about Pharrell. What could have easily turned out as something of a greatest hits album with bits and pieces cherry picked from the best parts of his career, instead turned out to be a grown and sexy, innovative album full of cinematic orchestration, killer vocals, and those damn Pharrell beats that aren’t even worth resisting. Most of all, it’s just fun.
The album opens with “Marilyn Monroe,” where one of Pharrell’s own idols, Hans Zimmer, commands an orchestra that gives Pharrell the fanfare entrance he so rightfully deserves. The strings give way to a funky disco beat, over which P sings about Marilyn, Cleopatra, and Joan of Arc, none of whom can hold a candle to his girl.
Next is “Brand New,” featuring Justin Timberlake. Now, I may or may not have said in the past that I’d rather watch a bowl of oatmeal cook in the microwave than watch Justin Timberlake perform anything at all, this time it’s different.
“Brand New” is a fun, fast-paced little romp with staccato horns moving the song right along and giving it a sort of “conga line in terminal B6 of Miami International Airport” feel, but in a good way. Pharrell and Justin ping pong vocals back and forth the entirety of the song, and the result is beautiful. G I R L not only proves how talented Pharrell is on his own, but how he knows how to showcase an artist at their absolute best.
On this note, let’s jump forward to “Come Get It Bae,” a song that features Queen of 2013, Miley Cyrus. I was all geared up for another Miley moment, but by the time her vocals came in, I had completely forgotten about her shenanigans and was simply enjoying the song. Anyone that can take our attention off of Miley Cyrus deserves a round of applause, or at least your $9.99 on iTunes.
Their duet is a tongue-in-cheek song made up of not much more than a guitar, drums and hand claps, but it is undeniably fun, one of those songs that makes you wish that summer would just hurry up and get here already. (BTW I still love Miley. Hate on me in the comments below!)
On “Gust Of Wind,” we see Daft Punk returning the favor and lending vocals, while Hans Zimmer shows back up with his orchestra. Such a trio could easily have been a trainwreck of an idea at the hands of any other producer, but P’s funk blended with Daft Punk’s robotic voices both riding atop of Zimmer’s orchestra somehow work. Really well.
This is not to say that Pharrell is reliant on collaborations to achieve a hit album (if he was, he’d be playing it safer than pairing Daft Punk and Hans Zimmer). The album closes with “It Girl,” a song that could basically serve as the thesis of G I R L. It’s a song with a swagger all its own, a disco throwback full of guitar riffs and a beat that begs to be bumped in your car with the windows down on a slow creep through the neighborhood. Pharrell’s falsetto is smooth as ever, building on itself into lush harmonies leading to the climax of the song, then letting the beat ride out while you catch your breath.
A personal highlight is after track eight, before track nine, a hidden track “Freq” featuring:
Any of my friends will tell you that I have a very deep, undying devotion to JoJo, which I will not go into now because there is not enough room on the internet, (OK, long story short: After being the youngest vocalist to score a number one on Billboard and beginning a massively successful career, she was caught up in a legal battle with her record label, which kept her from releasing music for eight years -- and now she is free, signed to Atlantic, and about to snatch wigs. More on that later.)
“Freq,” pronounced “freak,” finds Pharrell singing the mellow mantra, “You’ve got to go inward to experience the outer space that was built for you.” What does that mean? I don’t know. And I don’t care! Because JoJo (and her vocal cords, which are coated in platinum and then slathered in La Mer) begins to softly croon, “I’d rather be a freak than not be unique, the individuality makes life better.”
G I R L contains no fillers, which is rare. But then again, when you’re listening to a record from the best producer in music today, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. It’s a clean, succinct album that’s a joyful celebration of women, sex, and good music.
G I R L will be released on March 13, 2014, and is streaming now on iTunes Radio.
Tynan is worshipping Pharrell on Twitter: @TynanBuck.