PHARRELL WILLIAMS “G I R L” (Columbia, • • • • )
As singer, composer and collaborator, Pharrell Williams has had a starry year under his production moniker, the Neptunes. His hits with Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”) and Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”) were summer 2013’s soundtrack. His “Despicable Me 2” theme, “Happy,” pumped this year’s Oscar ceremony. Major Lazer’s “Apocalypse Soon” EP recently appeared, for which Pharrell teamed with Philly’s Diplo. And now we have “G I R L,” Williams’ second solo album, steeped in inventive soul, eccentric electro-disco and melodic tinged tunes dedicated to his muses.
Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus and the helmeted Daft Punk duo (their computerized, hooky “Gust of Wind” is the best teaming here) make appearances, but it’s Williams alone – that falsetto, that control – that makes this “G I R L” gorgeous. Starting with the swelling strings (courtesy Hans Zimmer) of “Marilyn Monroe,” Pharrell moves with bravura from dramatic drone to a discoesque groove. That same energy and panache are in evidence in the sexy “Hunter,” the Neptunes-ish “Gush,” and the minimalist “Lost Queen” (“I’m half good and half nasty”). And you also have the joyful “Happy”! With such riches, “G I R L” could well be the “Thriller” of the 21st century.
RICK ROSS “Mastermind” (MMG/Def Jam, • • )
The rap world turns, Rick Ross doesn’t. Kanye innovates, Jay Z transitions to dad-rap, and Kendrick Lamar dazzles with technique and narrative. Ross still just wants to be the Notorious B.I.G., so on “Mastermind,” his sixth album, he remakes Biggie’s “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).” By doing so, the Miami “bawse” reminds us how singularly lackluster his lyrics and storytelling can be. This is meathead, gangster-fantasy, luxury rap. That’s fine if you really want another 16 tracks of Ross lazily rapping about gated mansions, expensive cars, meaningless murders and jail cells with WiFi. But not even the guest appearances by West, Jay Z and Meek Mill make “Mastermind” any less exhausted or routine. This is Ross standing still.
JASON EADY “Daylight and Dark” (Thirty Tigers, • • • • )
On the best country album of the year so far, the alcohol begins flowing right away, and, fittingly, it’s the hard stuff. Jason Eady starts off “Daylight and Dark” with the terrific barroom honky-tonker “OK Whiskey” (it “treats me better than that old 3.2”). That’s followed shortly by “Temptation” and then a really killer drinking song, “One, Two … Many.”
That concludes the portion of the track listing headed “Causes.” What follows are “Consequences,” and Eady’s take on them is as unsparing as the music is uncompromising, hard-core country. In other words, this isn’t a Luke Bryan record. “Now I’m left with the damage I’ve done,” Eady, a Mississippi native, laments on “Liars and Fools.” The title song points up the existential struggle of these characters as they try to find their way in a world that is not always black and white: “It’s a worn-out situation when you don’t know where you are.”
The “Recovery” portion of the program doesn’t sound much cheerier. “Late Night Diner” is colored by mournful steel guitar as the singer ponders more of the heavy costs of his behavior. The bonus track, “A Memory Now,” concludes things on a brighter note, musically at least, framing the biting kiss-off of the lyrics in a jaunty two-step with guest vocalists Hayes Carll and Evan Felker.