Thursday, February 05, 2015

Girl - Pharrell Williams

Yeah, so Pharrell made an album. He's always been a fantastic producer and collaborator. His fame is at near peak - so it only makes sense for him to squeeze some money out of it. I often get asked why none of these Best Album reviews are bad - I seem to like everything. Well, I certainly like some stuff more than others, but generally albums get nominated for Grammys for a reason. They're often pretty good.

I'm not sure if Pharrell's Girl will be the exception this year. I keep thinking back to Babyface releasing a full album after his hit from the Phenomenon soundtrack in the 90's. An aging, superstar producer with a commercial hit trying to capitalize. Babyface has a voice, but he was never a star. It was a bit of a disappointment (and that's being more than generous). Girl starts off with, "Marilyn Monroe," a track with a predictably great beat, but the lyrics are sadly shallow and Pharrell's voice doesn't pop at all.

I wonder if Pharrell gets this nomination because the voters don't want to alienate a guy who they hope to work with, a guy who can make them a star. For someone who makes his living adding real value to artists' work, the production value is incredibly underwhelming. Everyone loves Pharrell, he's always so positive and encouraging, it's no wonder he can bring in artists like Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus, and Daft Punk, at the same time there's a real feel that no one wants to hurt his feelings by criticizing the album. I couldn't find a single review that didn't essentially say, "We respect Pharrell, but this album might not be for everyone." Lot's of head-scratching here.

On "Brand New" the lyrics once again fall flat and Timberlake's vocals diminish what Pharrell does. I wonder if he'd have been better off just putting the thing together and getting other people to sing on each track like Avicii or some other producer/artist does. The overwhelming impression I get from the album is that it was put together quickly and with just enough care to get released, but it scream "money grab."

The Miley Cyrus track, "Come Get It Bae" is much the same way. It's a decent track, but it would be noticeably better with someone else singing. Miley does well, since she's, you know, an actual recording artist. Maybe Pharrell just came up with one or two singles and filled out the album with stuff he had laying around? I'm just having a hard time processing how anyone ever thought releasing this album was the right thing to do.

"Gust of Wind" feature Daft Punk and its only drawback is that Pharrell appears on it. The robots probably did as much as they could with what Pharrell presented them, but these lyrics are also barely salvageable. I get it. I write, but often I feel I'm much better making other people's stuff better than writing my own. There's no shame in being a collaborator. I guess Pharrell had to figure that out like anyone else.

Alicia Keys does some great work on "Know Who You Are," but again, there's not enough of her and too much Pharrell. It's also entirely too short and ends abruptly. "It Girl," the album's final track is good. Released on its own, it could be a solid single. The lyrics are well written, even if they're a bit vapid. The production is great. Pharrell's beat, as always, is solid. It fits his voice well. Still, there's clearly not enough here to make up for the rest of the album.

Some of the tracks are just bad. "Hunter" is completely unlistenable. Painful. If you played it for me and told me some guy wrote and recorded this in his living room, I would totally believe you. "Gush" is about exactly the worst possible thing you could imagine it's about from the title. Tasteless. Listening to this track makes me wonder if he intentionally made the worst possible album just to see how many people he could convince to buy it. I mean, there's a good chance he doesn't even show up to the Grammys since no one got his joke.

The very fact "Happy" is included on this album makes the hit single less valuable simply by association. Then you remember it was written for Cee-Lo and you realize he probably should have been allowed to sing it. It clearly would have been better.

For all that, I thought "Lost Queen" had endearing lyrics, decently written. Sparse production and finally a chance to show off the nuances of Pharrell's voice. I still think it would be better if he gave it to someone else to sing it, but Pharrell does do it justice, especially compared to the rest of Girl. The second half of the eight minutes is supposedly a second song ("Freq") on the same theme. It features uncredited vocals from Jojo (great!) and an interesting vibe. Remember, "Lost Queen" is easily the best thing on the record, and it would likely be a throw-away bonus track on most decent albums, so take it for what it is. It also seems to be about loving an alien or some admission that Pharrell is, in fact, an alien himself - which would make a ton of sense, actually.

In the end, in Girl, I'm sure Pharrell made the album he wanted to make. I guess his taste in music is just completely different than everyone else. He clearly knows what people like, his work proves that, maybe this is just for him.

No comments: