Why do people like Pharrell?

22:08, Mar 05 2014

So, there's a new album by Pharrell Williams, it was rushed out, no long lead-in with this record. But it's really nothing special at all. Obviously he's riding high, his work on last year's Daft Punk album and a few other guest spots, some movie soundtrack work too.

Well, he was on two of the biggest pop hits of 2013 with Daft Punk's Get Lucky and Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines. Those songs - and a few other cameos; next thing Pharrell was everywhere, some lucky charm. About a decade ago he was everywhere too - with The Neptunes and N*E*R*D. He was both the hook-singer and hit-maker, working behind the scenes as producer and in front of the records as the face and voice - he was selling his own songs and doing the cameos. Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot was, 10 years ago, the Blurred Lines and/or Get Lucky of its day.

And there are supposed to be no second acts in American lives.

Pharrell is only just in his early 40s, he appears to have not aged at all across the last decade - because having hits is obviously good for the skin, if not for the soul. But is he actually any good?

I've never rated his sound - as singer, and I'm not sure he was ever doing anything innovative or clever as producer/songwriter/performer. Oh, he can sing. He's not ghastly. And I have no issue with his hammy pop-hits - right time, right place, I still like Get Lucky, I certainly dig his sound on the lesser-played Lose Yourself To Dance from the same Daft Punk album. And he's appeared on other cool records that I really like - such as Frank Ocean's Channel Orange.

He picks some cool people to work with - he dives in under the radar (Ocean, Solange), as well as working with the big pop drawcards (Miley Cyrus). I have no issue with his work ethic, his choices, even if his near-ubiquity is part of what will ultimately sink him again - this second time around - I just don't think there's anything special to his sound.

To my ears there is one really good song on the new album. And one pretty decent follow-up to that. These two songs arrive about three quarters of the way through the album. Okay, there's some catchy, formulaic funk-infused pop music on the first half of the record. It's not entirely bad as such - but it isn't at all good. There's just no excitement. And yet this record will be gushed over, raved about. We like building up new heroes. There won't be another Michael Jackson, there could never be another Prince. There'll be nothing like a Donny Hathaway or an Al Green or an Otis Redding. There won't be another James Brown no matter how much your white guilt tells you that loving Charles Bradley's screaming matches is close enough.

And so people will say of Pharrell, "well, he's good enough" and that it's "nice to be reminded" and that it "comes close". When it does no such thing. Yes, he's laughing all the way to the bank. Phoning in vocals over half-formed song-throwaways.

I'd love to know just what the appeal is. I get that people might like to look at him - that's always been an important part of liking pop music; that is liking the look of the actual artist, having some fantasy-element, some enabler. But there's nothing in the songs on the new album. Well, not that I can hear anyway.

Here's my review of Pharrell's rushed and lazy G I R L.

Have you heard it? Will you be buying, borrowing or stealing it? Or is it simply not your thing?

And can someone tell me just what the appeal is - in a musical sense? Whatever skills he hashe's keeping well-hidden on this latest record. It's far too easy for him to take the money now and run from project to project, just tossing out his simplified soul sound, his trace-around gospel/funk-edged pop. I'm surprised anyone takes it seriously. And even if it's just for a bit of fun - no need to always be taking music seriously - I reckon Jamie Lidell's records are a better buy, more bang for your buck. Or clang for your click, as it were.

So what's the excitement around Pharrell? And why now? Didn't he slope off and all but disappear? Why's he on a hot streak now? What's the buzz? Any fans out there care to comment?

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