Or is it?
Pharrell’s opening gambit with ‘G I R L’ is up there with Andre Gide’s “please do not understand me too quickly” in terms of matching subtlety with precision. Yet it’s a promise the R&B singer struggles to keep on an album that attempts to pit major-label pop and feminist ideals against one another.
Undoubtedly coming from a very sincere place, Pharrell’s promise to help correct “an imbalance in society” is a noble one. The liquid funk of this second solo LP’s opener, ‘Marilyn Monroe’, is an ode to female empowerment, a dissection of the independent woman throughout history – from Joan of Arc to modern celebrity culture.
High-profile female performers dominate the cast, with Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys both making star turns. Of the two, Keys leaves the lasting impression with her turn on ‘Know Who You Are’ providing ‘G I R L’ with one of its most genuinely soulful moments.
Yet the mask still slips. In part, the feminist themes of ‘G I R L’ are intended as a reaction to ‘Blurred Lines’, yet Pharrell suffers from more than a few grey areas himself on ‘Hunter’, which utilises some fairly disturbing imagery. “Just because it’s the middle of night / That don’t mean I won’t hunt you down,” is just the tip of a fairly sizeable iceberg of unsavoury lyricism.
Questionable wordplay aside, though, where ‘G I R L’ really comes up short is in its production. The retro-fetishism which dominated ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Get Lucky’ is apparent throughout: Pharrell employs plenty of Marvin Gaye’s buoyancy – that lurid, Motown funk – but it feels slightly cold, somewhat sterile. Daft Punk even drop in on ‘Gust Of Wind’ but their impact, as enjoyable as it is, feels more akin to a light breeze than a synthesised hurricane.
Ultimately, ‘G I R L’ is neatly defined by ‘Happy’ (video below). The theme from the movie Despicable Me 2, the single is already an enormo-hit, and it’s easy to hear why: slick, contagious and disposable, it’s incredible pop music. But that’s all it is.
Pharrell isn’t raising the game on ‘G I R L’ – it’s a thoughtful, imaginative unit-shifter with some sincere themes running through it. But “different”? Not quite.
Words: Robin Murray
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Listen to ‘G I R L’ in full via Deezer, below…