Written by Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (@danielmondon)
“What can we do? We’re hopeless romantics.” – “Marilyn Monroe,” 2014.
Pharrell Williams has occupied many musical identities since he ghost-wrote Teddy Riley’s bars on “Rump Shaker” in 1992. They include (but are not limited to) the following: dapper AOR virtuoso, sleazy politician-hater, shirtless heart-throb, eccentric backpacker-turned-rich, living disco glitterball, goody-goody conscience to the amoral and tortured, Hans Zimmer in training, Bmore DJ in training. All these artistic incarnations share something in common: a giddy sense of exploration. They may not all be successful, or even worthwhile, endeavours, but you can rarely ever tell that Williams is half-assing it. Musical ideas are executed to their full potential and their lessons are absorbed into the next persona Williams reveals.
His sophomore solo album G I R L is the next step after a mega-successful 2013, a year where the world caught up with the Seventies-centric songcraft he had been developing since N.E.R.D.’s 2010 album Nothing. It’s succinct at ten songs, a collection of warm tones that should easily appeal to the millions that bumped “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” out of work radios, car stereos and onto wedding dance-floors. The word “disco” is being used a lot in early reviews, likely referencing the Chic-esque guitar licks and dazzling strings (conducted by Hans Zimmer!) all over the record, but G I R L is as much glitzy soul as it is disco. 2014 Pharrell is a man imbued with modernizing the sounds of the past, a nostalgic space that also makes space for references to Williams’ oeuvre. A member of early N.E.R.D. buddies Spymob plays guitar throughout, the chorus on “Gush”—a Prince tribute of sorts—directly evokes 2003’s “Light Your Ass On Fire” with Busta Rhymes—a Kraftwerk tribute of sorts, the late album highlight “Lost Queen” fades into water SFX and a hidden interlude much like Fly Or Die’s “Wonderful Place” did. These are savvy amalgamations of Williams’ musical touch, never feeling Xeroxed-over these are songs driven by giddy exploration.
And little seems to inspire Williams’ explorer tendencies quite as much as the fairer sex. When he sings about women, he’s starry-eyed, attempting lover boy slackness, finding cosmic parallels or all three at the same time (natch, “Get Lucky”). Women matter to him, and they drive him to being the “hopeless romantic” he refers to on “Marilyn Monroe.” The liner notes to Fly or Die found Williams ecstatically wishing for his “future Girlfriend,” one of his more whimsically dorkier moments. Now married and with a child, he appears reflective and analytical of his romantic past—not the failures, just overall experiences. This narrow optimism sounds hopeful and wonderful and even a little silly. There’s simply no space for bad vibes here. Williams sounds joyful reveling in his hopeless romanticism, having found a space where he’s not second-guessing himself. “You can blame me as to why we haven’t met yet,” he wrote in those liner notes to his “future Girlfriend,” but G I R L sounds like someone shaking off the blame in lieu of simply celebrating the search.