Pharrell continues his one-man disco revival on G I R L
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Pharrell continues his one-man disco revival on G I R L

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Pharrell Williams

Album: G I R L
Label: Columbia

Pharrell Williams never disappeared after his remarkable early-’00s run with The Neptunes. He continued working at a hummingbird’s pace, collaborating with big stars, lesser stars, up-and-comers, and non-starters—any and everyone, really—on dozens of projects a year. Still, it seemed that his best days were behind him, if only because how could they not be? No artist could sustain that level of success forever; even Motown stopped making hits eventually, and its machine was much bigger than a lone producer with a fairly limited skill set. Last year, however, Pharrell’s persistence paid off beyond anybody’s expectations. With spotlight turns on the two biggest hits of the summer, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the producer reemerged as a one-man disco revival. Along with “Happy,” his sleeper single from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, those blockbusters positioned him as something he never was even at the height of The Neptunes: a bankable solo draw.

If there’s something fundamentally cynical about G I R L, Pharrell’s first album under his own name since 2006’s dead-on-arrival In My Mind, it doesn’t suffer for it. Rush-released to piggyback on the success of “Happy,” the album goes about its quest to please the widest possible audience with mechanical efficiency, packaging Pharrell’s proven disco grooves in agreeable, mostly PG-rated songwriting. The semi-salacious “Gush” is the only track sensitive parents may want to skip while their kids are in the backseat. Otherwise, this is pop music at its cleanest, with none of “Blurred Lines’” unctuous sexual politics or even so much as a single rap verse to offend delicate sensibilities. Given his track record, Pharrell might not be the most obvious choice to anchor an album about respecting and honoring women, but here he wears his good intentions convincingly.

Every few tracks a big name pops by—Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, the Daft Punk robots—all of them sounding as if they happily rolled into the studio in sweatpants on their day off, and all of them smart enough to understand star power doesn’t hold much currency on a groove-centric album like this. Mostly their role is to combat Pharrell fatigue, lending extra voices to break up the monotony of the producer’s wiener-dog falsetto—an easy task that leaves everybody looking good. At what point does Pharrell’s disco pep begin to wear out its welcome? Probably around the 50-minute mark, but that isn’t an issue, since G I R L only runs 47.

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