Tuesday 18 March 2014

Pharrell Williams: Which GIRL Is It, Anyway?

This is either a sign of me simply not being hip to things or just my terrible disinterest, but it surprised me greatly to find Pharrell Williams, as of right now, is 40 years old - and not in his early twenties. It has nothing to do with his looks: he's one of those weird thespians who's features don't give much away, but his recent behaviour. He's spent his new found fame wearing novelty hats, acting in misogynistic videos and making Meryl Streep dance at the Oscars: it's no knock to what is a very classy persona, only a shift on the charts from new-kid-on-the-block to mid-life crisis territory. 

For the sake of comparison, compare to an artist eyeing similar territory, like say Bruno Mars, and you will start to see the problem. Bruno is 28 years old, possibly seemingly a little younger through boyish good looks, but if reports by friends who saw him live are to be believed, possesses a sort of intensity that, while hard to pin to an age, probably wouldn't be associated with a young man, and not a modern pop star young man. I spent a while ignoring Bruno, seeing him barking up that 70s sex funk tree that so many want to plant their seeds into right now, and figuring him not up to the task. But Bruno, from what I can tell, is the real thing: he sings a line like "Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise/And it shows, yeah, yeah, yeah" with his voice, a voice so sharp I imagine it could cut through the sexual tension in even the most hushed conversation, and somehow makes you forget such a line is even about sex, probably because his voice is always pointing to sex anyway: he is definitely the real deal. 

I didn't really think Pharrell needed to be the real thing, although that was until I listened to G I R L, which is 10 tracks of (mostly) 70s inspired disco funk. It's got a chrome finish: the sort of glossy dance pop Pharrell has involved himself in so much of recently, but it's undeniably the sort of music for getting out when you've managed to get the girl back to the apartment (only to realize you forgot to download any Marvin Gaye).

The fact that Pharrell can adapt into whatever style and not have anyone take much notice does highlight an image problem the man seems to have weaved for himself: just where do you being with him? His work with The Neptunes? N.E.R.D? Or maybe his collaborations? The success of his recent ones with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke possibly the reason for this new solo outing - this afterall being his first since his debut in 2006. I find his collaboration with Robin Thicke worthy of note: for those that don't remember, it's these two who made that vile pro-rape song last year. Also worthy of note though: it was poor poor Robin who took all the blame for that one, although it's not hard to see why, just watch the video (the late night, tits and all version): Thicke looks like the cool jock type who's dragged Pharrell, his nerdy best friend, to the cool kids sex party and he (Pharrell) has just ran with it. We all silently agreed that any sex Pharrell got that night was as a lucky victim of circumstance. 

Only G I R L makes the case that Pharrell really is a misogynistic ladykiller, firing out lines that don't even hide behind metaphor, only without that Bruno Mars intensity, which is why I still found myself making excuses for him like I'm sure many will. Take a line like "Your waves, they wash all over me" which would seem cheap from some artists, a placid if it came from good old Bruno, but from Pharrell's mouth it's more like when a five year old unknowingly says a sexual innuendo then has no idea why his parents are laughing. 

Instead everything's pretty unspectacular chill disco; from a guy who's just won a Grammy for it, the production is uninspired. The least chill track is Happy, the track I imagine most will buy the album for, which doesn't really fit with the other tracks at all; understandable, being it was recorded over a year ago for Despicable Me 2, made by the least groovy company in the world. The best production is in Lost Queen which has a tribal chant played to the background of Pharrell's most bubbly sweet lyrics, his best, and the only that might actually be used to charm a girl: "What planet are you from, girl?/And are there others like you there?" and "Though my planet's full of warfare/you make it feel like a dream". 

There are actual girls on here too; although Miley and Jojo are strangely uncredited, and Alicia Keys, who is credited, is no less forgettable than either. It was only Spotify that reminded me Justin Timberlake even appears on the damn thing. The only guest Pharrell actually knows what to with is Daft Punk, who lend their robot voices to add a longing sense of tragedy to Gust of Wind. It's a mixed bag of an album: half forgettable slush and the other half questionable groove with occasional highlights.

The album didn't leave me much in the end: it's breezy on first listen and not so much after that. Who is the GIRL Pharrell is looking for? Wanting? It's not Marilyn Monroe or even Joan of Arc as the man informs us himself on the first/best track; I doubt it's lover girl, the Bruno Mars type, since there isn't a love song on here; and yet I doubt Pharrell wants a girl down-and-dirty either, not with the asexual of these numbers: no, which GIRL Pharrell is looking for, G I R L certainly doesn't tell us. 

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