05
Dec
14

Best New Music of 2014: Pharrell – G I R L

Hello and welcome to an annual tradition around here: our month-long list of the year’s best new music! If you’re new, I’m Mark, editor of Extended Play and a contributor to websites like Bearded Gentlemen Music. Every day in December, I’ll run a short review of what I think was one of the best albums of 2014. Today: big hats and bigger hits!

Last year I was really hard on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, a record I felt was overproduced and underbaked, basking in retread 70s grooves and light on anything original or new to say. I’ve mellowed somewhat on it – I’m inclined to agree it’s Daft Punk stepping back from the overdriven EDM scene and back to mellow grooves – but I still think it’s their weakest album.

I mention this because their song “Get Lucky” was basically a dry run for the record I’m looking at today: Pharrell’s G I R L. It’s a record of light dance grooves, spiky funk and one monster hit.

“You missed me? Well I missed y’all,” says Pharrell at the beginning of “Come Get It Bae.” And while I don’t know if we ever were without him, it’d been a while since he’d dropped a new record. Almost a decade, actually. In the meantime he’d worked with just about everyone: Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez and Miley Cyrus. But his turn on Random Access Memories seemed to kickstart everything again; within what seemed like a couple of days, Pharrell was on the radio constantly, either on that, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” or his solo track “Happy.”

Originally part of the soundtrack to Despicable Me 2, “Happy” exploded like a firecracker and found its way back on this record. A simple, catchy drum pattern, backing harmonies and little touches of bass, hand claps and keyboard, it’s basically pop distilled down to its bones. It feels nearly skeletal on first listen, but after a dozen times or so, all the little elements start coming into focus: the chorus of voices, a horn adding tonal colouring, overlapping basslines. And the secret weapon of any self-respecting groovemaker: a Fender Rhodes. The lyrics are a little daft, but who cares!

The rest of the album doesn’t have the same glossy effects, but generally things stay at a high level. There’s some nice strings on “Marilyn Monroe” and “Gust of Wind,” a great electro-bass groove on “Hunter,” and “Gush” just drips an 80’s Prince-ish groove, outdoing anything the Purple One has done in years.

Indeed, it’s almost Prince-lite. It’s not as innovative as anything Prince did 30 years ago, but it has a lot of the same dance-inflicted mood and groove. Jangling guitars, bursts of strings and vocals, even the occasional dirty phrase: “I’m gunna set that ass on fire!” At the same time, Pharrell’s not as good an arranger as Prince and he certainly doesn’t have the same guitar chops.

At times, I can’t shake the feeling it’s almost a Curriculum Vitae for him: so many of the names that pop up here are people he’s worked with over the years. I don’t know much about the recording process of this particular album, but I wonder if it happened piecemeal, as he worked with these people. Either that or he’s got one hell of a contact list on his Gmail: Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Cyrus, Kelly Osbourne. Hopefully he doesn’t get too busy producing their next records to get around to his next LP.

 

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