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Pharrell: The ‘happy’ phenomenon and G I R L Album

Unless the man himself tells me otherwise, no one is going to convince me that Pharrell Williams had any inclination that everyone’s new favourite mood changer, would be anywhere near as big as it has now become. Think about it, who in their right mind thinks of putting together a 24 hour video to accompany a four minute song?

These are the types of reactionary ideas that can only be considered when a song becomes a phenomenon, which is exactly what ‘Happy‘ has become. Sure to feature on any soundtrack of this decade, it is (at least currently) the best music orientated high on the market. More than once I have found my walking pace adjust to the tempo, and my stride become that little bit bouncier while imagining throwing my hands in the air at summertime screeching (because i can’t sing to save my life) “CAUSE I’M HAPPYYYYYYY!!!!!”

With everything else surrounding this song, an album was always on the cards. Monetarily it’s a no brainer but as soon as it was confirmed, I had to wonder if critically, Pharrell was taking a risk. Although he has always remained in the spotlight it’s been seven years since his last full length solo outing, and he isn’t just an ‘urban’ mogul any more; he is now a global superstar who has gained millions of new fans and most of them only know him through his ‘Despicable’ music. It’s a certainty that a large chunk of the uninitiated, will be expecting nine slightly differing versions of Happy. ‘G I R L’ not only has to convert the Happiest of Pharrell’s disciples but also live up to the expectation, its seminal single has created.

This man however, is no fool and knows exactly where his bread is buttered. He could easily have shown us all his vast array of production talent and really let loose, but for most of the album he sticks to what he does best. The vibe immediately picks up where Happy left off and simply does not let go until the album is almost over. At ten tracks deep, quality is the key word and most of what is on show would have been (?) the focal point of many a car stereo in the summer (explanation later).

Pharrell’s strength is the sparseness of his production. Rather than layering his beats with a load of unnecessary clutter, he concentrates on the placement of the instruments he does use, and their impact on a song overall. The way the opener, ‘Marilyn Munroe‘ begins for example, with its layered string synth harmony, I was expecting something grander than an electro-disco steppers groove. But such is its minimalistic deftness that I defy anyone, who does not find it immediately infectious.

And so the album continues, with an obvious common thread, yet with each track finding a slightly different formula of making you move (or at least wanting to move) than its predecessor. Pharrell is very shrewd with his vocals. He knows he isn’t going to be troubling Robin Thicke or Neyo any time soon; and at times its almost as if, he chooses to play the background, knowing full well that in some cases learning the words comes a distant second. Whether it’s the staccato guitar riffs of ‘Brand New‘ (featuring Justin Timberlake), the ‘lets bust a smooth move’ percussion of ‘Gust Of Wind’ (with Daft Punk), ‘Gush & It Girl’, or the stuttering Timbaland-esque claps of the brilliant ‘Come Get It Bae‘ (featuring Mily Cyrus), there won’t be static bum in the bar/club if the resident DJ has got his wits about him.

My immediate thought though, is that its release has come about four months too soon. The obvious (and realistic) conclusion to reach after taking this album in is that none of the tracks will be anywhere near as huge as Happy; but they will be huge. G I R L has summer smash written all over it, and would have taken over the holiday season. But the Happy juggernaut simply had to be capitalised on, so what was the man to do. Such responses to one song happen once, maybe twice every few years, and it would have been easy for Mr Williams to throw one or two hits in with some star studded filler, and still have reaped the rewards. Thankfully he is far too brilliant at (and respectful of) his craft for that.

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