I am torn between being completely repulsed and totally enamored by Pharrell Williams‘ second solo studio album, G I R L. I’m biased because he’s multi-talented, attractive, and rocks a sweet, awkwardly shaped cowboy hat, but I have too many mixed feelings about G I R L to fully appreciate it.
To be fair, the first two songs on the album really grabbed my attention and impressed me. “Marilyn Monroe” is catchy as hell. The song begins with this intense 30-second stringed instrument introduction that has a classic ambiance. That intro builds until it’s finally released into a slower, stringed melody which heightens to introduce the real song and Pharrell’s vocals. The electronic beat that follows is also pleasant, and sounds so well managed. Nothing is over done to the point of just colliding noise; each instrument is embraced. My favorite part, though, is the lyrical and symbolic message of the song. Lyrics like, “this one goes out to all the lovers/what can we do? we’re helpless romantics/we can not help who we’re attracted to/so let’s all dance, and elevate each other,” are so encouraging, especially because of their ambiguity and inclusion of everyone. Pharrell doesn’t care who attracts who, as long as lovers are loving. The song also attaches itself to the idea of complete freedom in who we chose to love, and not fearing others’ opinions.
“Brand New” is another starter track that I’d embrace, as its introduction is also creative – a vocal repetition of various sound effects by Pharrell and guest singer Justin Timberlake. But that leads into a funky, Jackson 5-like beat and tempo, upbeat and light. I’m also surprised by the vocal accomplishments of both Pharrell and Timberlake and how well they work together. The lyrics coincide with the song’s ambiance in how they help it maintain that lightness by focusing on how good some people can make other people feel. The lyrics, “Honey, you got me feelin’ brand new/you got me feelin’ brand new/like the tag’s still on me,” are kind of adorable and super fluffy.
I also have to mention “Know Who You Are”, which comes later in the album. It includes Alicia Keys and is probably the best song on the album. It starts simple, with an easygoing beat and Pharrell’s beautiful, soulful voice. The song doesn’t necessarily get more complicated, but it turns into this funky dance jam. There’s slight alternations that accompany the vocals, but it’s pretty constant in making me want to dance. However, the best part is the lyrics, especially the lyrics by Alicia Keys. Towards the bridge she sings, “say your name, enclave, to live life, on the edge/want you to know, I see, the power, is in me/no more/acquiesce/standin’ up with no stress/will do, what I need, ’til every woman on the Earth is free.” How fucking beautiful is that?
That’s why it’s hard for me to move on to the rest of the album and agree completely with what Pharrell is singing. The tracks I’m not interested in or find overwhelmingly awful and separate are “Hunter” and “Gush”. Now, I guess my problem with both tracks lies solely in the lyrics and message of the songs. They’re both catchy and Pharrell’s overall theme of funky dance jams is appealing. But “Hunter” and “Gush” have awful, subtle sexist content and that’s off-putting. “Hunter” has lyrics like, “just because it’s the middle of the night/that don’t mean I won’t hunt you down/cause up, in, deep inside/it’s pullin’ me and I want your love,” and “you and I should be gettin’ it right/ain’t no sense in you holdin’ on down/if I can’t have you, nobody can/this is an animal singin’ that’ll hunt you down,” that make me contort my face in discomfort. “Gush” spends the first 30 seconds repeating the line, “Make the pussy gush,” which automatically makes me worried. Then lyrics like, “light that ass on fire,” are something I don’t understand and want to avoid.
I might have put too much weight in Pharrell’s musical creativity and expression and nit-picked too much; but I think he has the musical talent and concern to include everyone in his music, so those few tracks make me pretty unhappy. The album is funky however, and that’s pretty neat. For his first release in eight years, Pharrell’s made a strong, if slightly skewed, solo comeback.