February 26, 2014


Pharrell's 'G I R L': A Track-by-Track Breakdown

UPDATE: G I R L sold 112,000 copies in its first week, good for No. 2 on this week's album chart behind Rick Ross' Mastermind.

Even as recently as last year, a new solo album from Pharrell seemed more of a vague idea than a reality. But coronations—be it on end-of-year album lists or the GRAMMYs or an Oscar nomination—bled into his biggest solo smash ever, and all of a sudden here we are sitting with his new full-length G I R L, which you can stream right this second. Here are our impressions of each song after giving the album a few spins.

1. "Marilyn Monroe"

In case you had forgotten that G I R L is called G I R L before pressing play, "Marilyn Monroe" will remind you. Over tightly coiled guitar licks and strings from Hans Zimmer, Pharrell puts his lady over Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and, of course, Marilyn Monroe. The opener functions almost as a title track, as there’s a coda where Pharrell chants "girl." G I R L, thankfully, gets funkier from here: The strings on this track are a bit too chintzy for their own good.

2. "Brand New" ft. Justin Timberlake

Considering the presence of Justin Timberlake—who relegated Pharrell to bonus track status on the first edition of The 20/20 Experience—on "Brand New," the song opening with exaggerated beatboxing and animal imitations almost reads as a subliminal diss at Timbaland. The track continues as one of G I R L’s most beguiling: "Doot-doot-doot" backing vocals race to keep up with punchy horns, and though it shouldn’t totally work, "Brand New" really congeals. It doesn't hurt that it also has one of the album’s best lines: "You got me feeling brand new / Like the tag’s still on me."

3. Hunter

Like "Brand New," "Hunter" typifies an album that's a straightforward throwback LP with slightly bizarre (and sometimes puzzling) flourishes. While the previous two tracks are produced to feel like gleaming luxury cars, "Hunter" is meant to be dirtier and livelier. Pharrell is singing noticeably further away from his microphone, putting the interplay between the popping bassline and jagged guitar lines right in the spotlight. But that’s with good reason: "Hunter" has the album’s best groove. It's a playful thing that makes the Duck Dynasty-reference in the bridge goofy and endearing instead of just stupid.

4. Gush

"Gush" is the first song on G I R L that is more disco than funk or soul. There are the scraping riffs we’ve heard across the record so far, but here they’re softened up by strings that hit the track like a kiss on the cheek. The hook, which calls back to his Busta Rhymes collaboration "Light Ya Ass on Fire," isn’t one of G I R L’s strongest, but overall "Gush" feels like the point where Pharrell’s vision comes together completely.

5. "Happy"

Tired of this one yet? The No. 1 song in America feels more or less at home on G I R L, but where the rest of the album is aggressively flirty, "Happy" is scrubbed up like a teenager in a suit. Eventually, it starts to feel a bit oppressive.

6. "Come Get it Bae" ft. Miley Cyrus

Mike Will Made It was the MVP of Miley's Bangerz, but Pharrell supplied a number of the album’s best tracks, including two funk numbers ("#GETITIRGHT" and "On My Own") that would be right at home on G I R L. "Come Get it Bae," which sports a nearly identical guitar tone, may very well be from those sessions. But this track shows some of G I R L's hallmarks: Cluttered, hand-beaten percussion that purposefully feels improvised and formless, and vocals that don’t fight the instruments for supremacy. The cute but classic sex-as-vehicle chorus is one of the record's best.

7. "Gust of Wind" ft. Daft Punk

Just like the previous track reminds you of Bangerz, "Gust of Wind" has the unmistakable scent of Random Access Memories. The short, flickering guitar lick is especially reminiscent of "Lose Yourself to Dance," but here the bass is allowed to stretch its legs a bit. It's the first time G I R L really feels smooth, though P could have done away with the buzzing strings. The pre-chorus is Pharrell harmonizing with rubbery robot vocals, though we're not entirely convinced that it's not Pharrell just singing through a vocoder.

8. "Lost Queen"

"Lost Queen" is the album’s most bizarre track, and it's the one G I R L track that doesn’t completely work. The beat is just hand drums and looped humming that sounds like the beginning of a Gregorian chant. Which could be interesting... but the lyrics are unforgivably dumb. Given the orchestral touches and general brightness of the album, G I R L has a slight Disney quality to it, but "Lost Queen" is the one track that sounds like it was written for some yet-to-be-released animated film.

The second half of the track—which is reportedly called “Freq” and features uncredited vocals from JoJo—has the feel of one of Timberlake’s 20/20 outros. There are touches of sitar, which hammers home the odd "Pharrell goes on an excursion" vibe of "Lost Queen." But the relaxed, languid pace of "Freq" is welcome.

9. "I Know Who You Are" ft. Alicia Keys

With acoustic guitars and a wobbly bassline, "I Know Who You Are" begins to end G I R L with a composition that sounds like a classic Neptunes production. It also has one of Pharrell's best vocal performances, and allows Alicia Keys to be more soulful and less bombastic than she's been of late. Coming off "Lost Queen," "I Know Who You Are" also feels like a palette cleanser.

10. "It Girl"

"It Girl" ends the album on a bouncy, loose note, sounding like something Pharrell and Chad Hugo might have cooked up for Timberlake's debut solo album. It's easy to close your eyes and picture this song being performed in the juke joint where JT's "Señorita" was set.

G I R L is streaming right now on iTunes.