Even if the masses didn’t know him until last year, Pharrell has been a tacit force in popular music for over a decade. As half of the production duo the Neptunes, he produced records for virtually every big name in hip-hop and R&B from the late nineties to today. Britney Spears, Noreaga, the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg and Frank Ocean can each thank Pharrell for at least one of their hits.
While his work as a performer hasn’t caught on until recently, past albums like 2005’s “In My Mind” and N*E*R*D*’s “In Search Of…” are underground classics in their own right. His ultra-poppy new single “Happy” stands as Pharrell’s biggest hit in the spotlight, and it’s a massive one by any standards: recently, it garnered a #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and an Oscar nod for Best Original Song, a feat only Eminem can otherwise claim.
In light of his resurgent success, Pharrell’s new solo album “G I R L” keeps a smile on its face for all of its funky 45 minutes. If Pharrell is a synesthetic, “G I R L” is bright yellow. Every song gleams and bounces with the dance-forward fun of Pharrell’s past hits.
That said, “G I R L” can sound more like a production sampler than a full-fledged release. Most instrumentals are shiny, tight and highly repetitive. Simple four-measure beats loop outlast their welcome (particularly glaring on “Hunter”), and while “G I R L” is way too polished to call half-baked, it comes off underdeveloped. Slipshod songwriting exacerbates the issue. Pop music is notoriously ephemeral, but some of these songs aren’t built to last beyond next week. Lowlight “Hunter” calls out Duck Dynasty, a reference that already feels dated; and no amount of Miley can save “Come Get It Bae” from its ho-hum sexual innuendo and internet slang.
While just as poppy as the rest of “G I R L,” “Happy” is the thematic outlier here, with each of its nine other tracks dedicated to the pursuit of girls, women, queens and yeah, “baes.” Actually, the innocent Pixar jam is sandwiched between two of the raunchiest tracks, the aforementioned “Come Get It Bae” and the plainly blue “Gush,” a post-pubescent gauntlet for any kid searching for his favorite “Despicable Me 2″ track on Spotify. Otherwise, most of songs are harmless skirt chasers, fixated on women as goddesses (“Lost Queen”) and intoxicants (“Brand New,” “Gust of Wind.”)
Pharrell has shown the world he’s gotten exceedingly good at producing fun pop music, and that’s further evidenced by “G I R L.” For those just looking for dance-y barbecue music, there’s plenty of fresh background beats to be had here. But like most of his solo outings, it doesn’t hold a candle to his outside production work. You can’t blame the man for shoving out a solo LP while he’s on a record hot streak. It’s a shame “G I R L” stops it cold.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.