Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hiatus

Well, here's the thing; I've been at this blog for about a year and a half now, and enjoying it thoroughly throughout. But my husband and I are about to welcome another little monkey (note: read "little monkey" as "tiny, screaming human") into the world, and it's time for me to take a break.

Thanks for reading, and I'll catch you on the flip side!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pharrell Williams: G I R L

As they say, all press is good press. And there probably aren't many who believe the sentiment more fervently than Pharrell Williams here, who after decades as a successful behind-the-scenes producer (his production duo, The Neptunes, had a hand in everything from JT's Justified to Britney's "I'm A Slave 4 U") and a somewhat less-noticed rapper (turns out he was on Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot"), finally hit the big time last summer, with credits on the season's two mega-hits, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". And though "Blurred Lines" was controversial, it shot Thicke to prominence (and voted "Sexist of the Year"), and presented plenty of interview opportunities for 40-year-old Williams as well (like this one, with TimeOut). It also, in tandem with Williams's work on "Get Lucky", got him a record contract and the inspiration behind this album, his second solo release. Or, as Williams told NME, the "Blurred Lines" backlash encouraged him to record something "feminist" in which he could clarify his real feelings about women, and so G  I  R  L was born. No word on why he didn't simply go with W  O  M  A  N, being a man of a certain age himself.

And what else can I tell you? Well, Williams has been in the music biz long enough that I can't possibly hope to give a thorough overview of his career in a couple of short paragraphs. But I can direct you to a Hip Hop DX interview which addresses his rumored abandonment of rap (he's not quitting, incidentally, just trying to bring "the element of a human touch" into his recent work), and an in-depth Complex piece where he talks about his recent successes. Or in his words,
"I couldn’t explain it. Imagine all your life you go to school to study fashion, and you find out the one thing you really like is the sock. So you’re not gonna be greedy. There’s a lot of designers out there: streetwear, high-end fashion. And you decide, 'You know what? My niche is the sock.' So you become decent at it. People start to recognize you for your socks, your little designs and stuff. And all of a sudden, God or the universe taps you on the shoulder and goes, 'Hey, reach on the inside, squeeze it, and pull it out.' And you realize that there is a reverse inside the sock. That’s what this is for me. I’ve never been on the forefront of such a huge thing—done by the people, by the way. The people vote for the songs, they pay for the songs, they stream the songs, they look at the videos. So my point is that my understanding of what I was supposed to do, what I could do, had been turned inside out. That’s my life."
And because I could stare at this post for years and never come up with anything better than Williams's sock metaphor, let's move on to the album.


First, then, the basics. If you've heard either of Timberlake's latest monstrosities, or Robin Thicke's newest, or the lead single from G  I  R  L ("Happy" - and you know you've heard it; they're probably playing that song in space), then you already have a good feel for what this album sounds like. So, you know, a mixture of funk-driven neo-soul with falsetto for days. Which isn't to say that none of these songs have their charms, of course; best-cut-in-the-mix "Hunter" tops a fat bass line with a Saturday Night Fever-worthy groove and breathy pants ("Well hold up baby what's going on/Tell the truth I wanna know"), and the Miley Cyrus-assisted "Come Get It Bae" pairs complex and clapped beats with retro vocal delivery and motorcycle-themed double entendres. Then "Gust of Wind" transitions from orchestral disco synths and '80s-worthy pop smoothness into robot-with-a-heart Daft Punk-y choruses, and "Lost Queen" presents doo-wop-ish background vocals with hushed hand drums and relaxed cadences, even if the hidden-track portion of it descends into 20/20 Experience-esque levels of boredom ("I don't have a problem with multi-taskin'/Taking care of you that's my number one passion"). And while none of these tracks pop quite like lead single "Happy", there's enough musical texture and depth on this album to distract from the fact that the lyrics are as fluffy as the snow still piling up outside.

Of course, now that I've said it, I'm going to say it again; there's something patently ridiculous about the fact that Williams is presenting this album as some sort of female-centered anthem when its lyrical depth stays safely in the shallow end (and, naturally, the shallow end is where we talk a lot about sex). At its worst, G  I  R  L is also scattered, overwrought, and somehow simultaneously underdeveloped, as if Williams forgot that songs are more than a collection of awesome moments, and often require continuity to achieve greatness (incidentally, I'd bet he'd be a killer jingle-writer). Or, put differently, this album is a mixed bag without many singles, and with many of the songs coming across as musically superior to their lyrics (notable examples of this include "Marilyn Monroe", where Williams describes a girl as better than historical foxes such as the titular reference, Cleopatra, and - wait for it - Joan of Arc, and "Brand New" featuring Justin Timberlake, which will forever live in my mind as an ode to skin tags). So yeah, it's better than JT's recent fails, or Thicke's ego-trip of a record. But I'm still waiting for someone in neo-soul to do better, and deeper. Because god knows that the genre deserves to be represented by at least one dude who no one can accuse of being a douche.