Pharrell, "G I R L" (Columbia Records/Back Lot Music)
On the heels of two monster hits where he was the co-star -- the Daft Punk jaunty funk jam "Get Lucky" and the much vilified yet utterly catchy "Blurred Lines" with Robin Thicke, Pharrell is taking the lead with the relentless "Happy," which appears on the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack and is nominated for best original song on Sunday's Oscars. The cheerful tune is also on his second studio album, "G I R L," released perhaps coincidentally the day after the Academy Award winners are announced.
The 10-track set is an ode to the female form and spirit, peppered with sexy vibes and brash come-ons. A definite change from his raspier, more alternative first album, which wasn't particularly successful, "G I R L" proves Pharrell -- a member of N.E.R.D. and the hit-making Neptunes -- is a true, and exceptional, frontman.
Cynics will dismiss the album as a shameless attempt to derail the accusations of misogyny leveled at "Blurred Lines." After all, Pharrell is cheeky and sexy, and his lyrics sometimes blur the lines between playful seduction and outright possession. "Ain't no sense in you roaming around, if I can't have you nobody can," he says in "Hunter," but maybe that's his way of saying he can't help it if the ladies find him attractive and he reciprocates. After all, this is the entire ethos of the album: love in its purest form, love at the first frisson, love settled on a cloud, love of the flesh.
The record's tempo matches the upbeat "Happy," and it deploys killer hooks. The sound is eclectic, ranging from dramatic violins in the Daft Punk-assisted "Gust of Wind" to Motown disco beats in "Hunter" and tribal drums in "Lost Queen." Persistent echoes of Michael Jackson-style sound lurk on the album, from the sultry "Gush" to the deliciously head-bopping "Marilyn Monroe" to the Justin Timberlake-featured "Brand New."
A definite homage to women is the female empowerment ballad "Know Who You Are," where Pharrell sings with piano queen Alicia Keys. He croons on the mellow reggae tune, "I know who you are and I know what you're feeling." No doubt about where he stands on gender equality there.
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