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Album Review: Pharrell Williams’ ‘Girl’

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Annie Zaleski

Three stars

Pharrell Williams Girl

Pharrell Williams’ enduring ability to stay atop the pop and hip-hop charts has much to do with his collaborators. From his time pushing out kaleidoscopic beats as part of über-successful production duo The Neptunes to rakish appearances on hits by Snoop Dogg, Robin Thicke and Daft Punk, the 40-year-old is smart about the company he keeps. On his solid solo album GIRL—a record that comes on the heels of an Oscar nomination for the relentlessly peppy “Happy,” which also appears here—Williams again turns to his pals for creative boosts.

Justin Timberlake lends vocal panache to the horn-sprinkled bubblegum soul cut “Brand New,” while Daft Punk augments the string-sliced disco of “Gust of Wind” with appropriately mangled robo-funk backing vocals. Elsewhere, Miley Cyrus adds bellowing soul to the busy, hopscotching twang of “Come Get It Bae” and JoJo appears on “Freq,” a sultry R&B hidden track that advocates for “individuality” (after all, it “makes life better”) via silk-sheet sighs and shivering croons. The only real misstep is “Know Who You Are;” Alicia Keys’ Mariah Carey-caliber warbling can’t redeem the reggae-lite music and plodding tempo.

Paradoxically, GIRL is most compelling (and focused) when Williams stays in the spotlight—from the funk-pop jam “Hunter” to the futuristic “Marilyn Monroe,” a sleek synth-pop gem stacked with falsetto singing, corrugated guitar and dramatic strings. Without the added cushion of a musical foil, he has only himself on which to rely, and more often than not, he rises to the occasion.

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