Pharrell Williams has been having quite a run lately. The guy is seriously everywhere, with his hand seemingly in everything. Besides receiving guest vocal spots on Daft Punk‘s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” his solo hit “Happy” was ubiquitous, as well, and it received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song last year for its appearance in the animated film Despicable Me 2. “Happy” also appears on Pharrell‘s second solo album G I R L, which has been a success by pretty much every measure. For one, “Happy” has sold more than 6 million copies in the US (and more than 12 million worldwide), and G I R L has achieved a gold certification from the RIAA, which rarely happens these days for LPs.
On top of that, Williams has become a full-time coach on The Voice, which is the only singing competition show with any credibility. But Pharrell has had a much longer run as a producer, for a long while as a member of the production duo the Neptunes and then eventually on his own — he was the sole producer of “Blurred Lines,” for instance. So how is G I R L? Pretty solid. The production is pretty elaborate, which is to be expected from someone with Pharrell‘s experience and skill. Like most great producers who venture into full-fledged songwriting, his shortcomings show when it comes to the articulation of his ideas from a compositional standpoint, since at heart he’s more of a “hook and beat” guy.
Take the worldwide smash “Happy” as an example. Irresistible and catchy, it’s perfect pop. Obviously, Williams can’t get away with every song being that simple, so most of the others meander somewhat, even if the choruses tend to be characteristically insistent. The results are somewhat mixed; there aren’t any bad songs here, or even any songs that aren’t pretty good (the only one that may be an exception is “Hunter”), but it’s generally the songs with a simpler structure that stand out, such as the opener, “Marilyn Monroe.” Even the simpler songs benefit from Pharrell‘s marvelous studio craftsmanship, with the arrangements filled out to a degree that is uncharacteristic for a pop album. It’s a fun album, and even if it doesn’t change the world, it will still rank as one of the more enjoyable mainstream pop albums of 2014.