Despite music being probably the main love in my life, I've never written about it. That's mainly because music is so subjective - it can, at times, completely polarise people. I've also often thought that the things I love in and about music, may not be of interest to other people, or they may even completely disagree. But, at long last, I've decided to write something. With their current popularity it's sometimes hard to remember where they came from, and there's even a large number of people out there buying this person's records who have no idea about their production and musical background.
So, the subject of this post (and if you know me, you've probably already guessed who it could be), is ............ Mr Pharrell Williams.
I've been a fan, and followed the career, of Pharrell since he broke on to the music production scene in the late-90s. As part of The Neptunes, with Chad Hugo, he was making tracks like N.O.R.E's Superthug and producing and overseeing the likes of Kelis and her album Kaleidoscope (she was signed to their Star Trak record label at the time). As producers I followed and really liked the work, but I really became a fan when they released their own album as N*E*R*D (Pharrell, Chad and Shae Hailey) called In Search Of...
Since then I've seen Pharrell / N*E*R*D live about 13 or 14 times - only missing two UK gigs since 2001 as I was living abroad. I've witnessed some great shows including the show after the Brit Awards in 2004 when the likes Naomi Campbell, Dizzee Rascal, will.i.am, Killa Kela and a young Justin Timberlake also graced the stage. I even got to hold Kelis' hand as she sung to me during a gig on Valentines Day the year before that (if my memory serves me correctly).
To further my nerdy (no pun intended) obsession I even have the N*E*R*D logo tattooed on my wrist. That's how much of a fan of the whole thing I am.
So as Pharrell's ascendence in to the musical stratosphere continues - following 2013's Blurred Lines, Get Lucky and Happy - and his latest album release, G I R L , I thought it was an apt time to write something.
Over the last few years Pharrell has spent more time producing by himself, mentoring new talent, working on film scores and focusing on projects outside of music. There had been rumours of an impending album for a while and even confirmation from Pharrell himself in 2013, but nothing ever really seemed that concrete, given his already hectic schedule. So when G I R L was announced, and with such a short time until the actual launch, it was somewhat of a surprise - I think it even came as a bit of a surprise to Pharrell himself.
To help launch the album a Google Hangout was setup and Pharrell himself played the album and discussed the tracks and answered questions. During the event he even talks himself about how he wasn't planning on an album at that time and was actually approached by the record label - obviously keen to cash-in on the recent hits and increased worldwide exposure he'd been having after the collaborations with Robin Thicke and Daft Punk.
My main gripe about the album is that it does obviously pander to the recently acquired pop following. The album is 'safe' and lacks any kind of edge that fans had previously come to expect from N*E*R*D albums, or even Pharrell's 2006 album In My Mind. If you're after those hip-hop hard beats, or rock/indie sounds, this album won't necessarily be for you. But then it's not meant to be - it almost unashamedly aimed at women and those of us who are fans and really appreciate well-crafted and produced music.
Lyrically the album seems slightly rushed. Verses are simplistic and short, but choruses and bridges are many. But as Pharrell is a writer/producer famed for his excellence in these areas, it's no wonder he can fill tracks like this and still not seem to have short-changed the listener. There's a few cheesy lines in there such as one on Hunter, "Taxidermy is on my wall with a full description of the kill and cause / I'm a hunter", but all in all it's fairly solid and can be overlooked when looking at the album musically and as a whole.
The album bears hallmarks of the time spent with Daft Punk over the last couple of years. It's funk and guitar driven, overlaid with the keyboard sounds and presets we've become used to Pharrell using over the last few years in his solo production. A great decision was to go back to a long-time collaborator, Brent Paschke (from SpyMob), for a lot of the guitar work. Brent is also back touring and playing live with Pharrell which is great to see. SpyMob were the band that would support N*E*R*D back in the day (I think I got to see them 4 or 5 times, maybe) and were used to do a live album version of In Search Of...
The influence of Hans Zimmer can also be heard in the album. Pharrell has been working with him on various film scores over the last few years - Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, Spiderman 2 - and has obviously soaked up different ways of recording, listening to and producing music - films scores are a very different world to producing an album for yourself or a track for another artist!
Objectively, I'd say this is a pretty good album. It's getting heavy rotation on my iPhone and when at home in iTunes. Musically and production wise, it's excellent. Very slickly put together with some great sounds and really nice tracks. It's just let down slightly by what seems a rushed release and the lyrics (or lack thereof). I'm a fan (obviously), but would probably give the album a 3.5 out of 5 (but pushing to a 4 out of 5 as a fan). Favourite tracks of mine are Brand New (with Justin Timberlake), Gust Of Wind (produced by Daft Punk), and Lost Queen.
If you want some more info on Pharrell and the album, head over to my Links section which point you in the right direction for content etc. Also check out theneptunes.org - a great fan site for all things Neptunes/Pharrell related. Below is also the full set from the recent Coachella festival, including some of the tracks from G I R L , as well as some other hits!