GIRL: Good News But Old News
Thom Behrens | Monday, March 17, 2014
Last year, R&B singer, recording artist and hip-hop, electro and pop producer Pharrell came back into the spotlight with guest appearances on the tracks “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky” on Daft Punk’s album “Random Access Memories.” While his vocal performance relied completely on an underwhelming use of his charming falsetto, he undoubtedly deserves thanks for helping the French duo bring funk back into the pop music scene. After a hit year filled with albums pushing this same disco-esque agenda, Pharrell has tried his hand at recording his own work again with “GIRL,” released March 3. While Pharrell does a wonderful job bringing back the appeal of slower, dance-paced pop songs led by click drums, clean guitar and synth progressions, he has failed at moving the genre forward.
His first track, “Marilyn Monroe,” is a different foreground put to the same scenery as Daft Punk’s album opener, “Give Life Back to Music.” And just as Daft Punk utilized Pharrell’s signature falsetto on their lead single, his own “Gust of Wind” uses the violin movement and talk-box vocals that have now become synonymous with Daft Punk.
However, Pharrell does not owe his sexy, sweet and sour synth symphony to Daft Punk, who purposefully tried to move away from analog on their latest album. “Marilyn Monroe” and its follow up, “Brand New,” reek strongly of Justin Timberlake’s intriguing and saucy beats developed on his massive, two-part masterpiece, “The 20/20 Experience” (albeit, Timberlake duets with Pharrell on “Brand New”). Timberlake’s uplifting strings, falsetto accompaniment and head-bobbing drum tracks blatantly appear here and throughout the album (see “It Girl”). On tracks such as “Hunter” and “Come Get it Bae,” Pharrell’s easygoing, repetitive tenor guitar strumming calls to mind “Dance Apocalyptic,” one of the lead singles off of Janelle Monae’s 2013 release “The Electric Lady.”
Pharrell’s use of techniques and themes which were resurrected in the mainstream pop music scene in 2013 nonetheless gives this album a groovy, easygoing and fun-lovin’ sound, but although this album showcases his knowledge of pop appeal, it strikes the listener as simply lazy song writing. While all of the aforementioned albums showcased layers of production, added gloss and intense precision, every song on “GIRL” falls short of the campy shimmer pop music consumers have come to expect from an album with the disco sound. All throughout the album, Pharrell has presented songs with a single riff, a single vocal trail and a decidedly unfinished sound. “Hunter,” “Lost Queen” and “It Girl” are all easy examples for songs which lack musical depth or any sense of exploration.
The rise of electronic music distribution has enabled artists to return to the “singles” mentality popular in the 1970s when pop music was consumed by DJs looking to spin vinyl hits for clubs full of people hungry to dance. Because of this, 2013 was a year of electro-pop explosion. In the 12 months preceding the release of “GIRL,” all of the aforementioned artists, as well as groups like Disclosure, Holy Ghost! and Broken Bells, released albums that pay homage to the disco music of our parents. Even within the genre of hip-hop, artists like Drake, Flo-Rida and Kanye West have been incorporating danceable, funkier beats into their songs – and this supply intonates that musical demand is thirsty for dance music. Pharrell, while obliging our ears and giving us an excellent dance album, has failed to contribute anything new to the trend of pop music.