Album review: “G I R L” by Pharrell Williams

Grant Tillery

On any given day, you'll find me relaxing to the smooth grooves of '70s R&B.  You can have your Top 40 dreck — I'll be luxuriating in the silky sounds of the Spinners, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye.   These deep grooves contain an elegant sexiness that today's music lacks.  It possesses universal purpose, perfectly designed for pleasurable activities such as convertible drives and barbeques.  It's simple music with few chord progressions and it’s designed to make you feel good. 

This is why I was ecstatic when Pharrell Williams announced his long-awaited second album (which wasn't even going to happen until Columbia talked him into it), "G I R L," was going to be a '70s-tinged affair.  Though it's already come under fire, Pharrell's Midas touch makes "G I R L" golden.

"G I R L" has been accused of two things: misogyny and imitation.  Pharrell declared, in an interview with Noisey, that "G I R L" is "dedicated to women across the world."  His celebration of women, however, apparently doesn't constitute as politically correct.  Music blog Tiny Mix Tapes (who gave it 0.5/5 stars) denounced "G I R L" as sexist.  On songs like "Hunter," they have a point if they're scrutinizing the surface of seemingly predatory lyrics, such as "Cupid, thank you for what you did/But you can't aim and get what I get/I'm a hunter."  But what the haters fail to feel is the power of fantasy.  That's what Pharrell captures in his lyrics— aural erotica, not misogyny.

Pharrell's ethos on "G I R L" is pleasure and positivity.  The songs are slinky serotonin-boosters, dissecting the best elements of Michael Jackson and disco stalwart Chic.  This alleged imitation has also caused backlash, because the sound is injected with Pharrell's trademark 21st-century minimalism.  Take "Brand New."  It would feel at home on Jackson's 1979 masterpiece "Off The Wall," but is Pharrell-ized by its relatively sparse backgrounds — blaring horns notwithstanding.  "Gust Of Wind," arguably the album's best track, takes orchestration cues from Philly Soul, but is modernized with Auto-Tune and Daft Punk's signature synthesizers.  And though "Happy" bucks the '70s influences, it's the feel-good song of the year thus far.   It avoids being cloying or outre because Pharrell's tight production makes it eminently danceable. 

Until someone invents a time-machine that travels to 1974, "G I R L" will suffice as a phenomenal extension of the era, which is having a trendy resurgence.  If you sandwich any given track ("Happy" aside) in a playlist next to a Temptations and an Al Green tune, it would be difficult to tell it was just released, because Pharrell understands that soulful, sensuous songs are timeless.  

3.5 out of 4 stars