Album: In My Mind
Label: Star Trak / Interscope
Rating: 5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Like it or not, as half of the Neptunes, Pharrell has been responsible for shaping and reshaping, modelling and remodelling the careers of the majority of your favorite commercial artists over the past half a dozen or so years – there’s no point in typing out a list as y’all already know who’s on it and why.
With Pharrell himself providing vocal hooks and guest verses during many of these studio sessions, it is however a little surprising that its taken this long for him to record a solo album proper. Its also astounding that its taken Star Trak and Interscope so long to finally get this officially out to market – the initial buzz around lead single ‘Can I Have It Like That’ has vanished, and the Kanye-featuring current single is more pap-rap than pop-rap.
However there’s still hope for Skateboard P, as his appearance on the Clipse’ sublime ‘Mr Me Too’ (themselves a victim of album-delaying tactics by their label) may still help push interest levels in “In My Mind” back up a little among those outside the TRL market. I mean this IS where this album is being aimed, right?
Things kick off with the first single, and while many hated it altogether, I simply state that removing the redundant Stefani appearance is the only move necessary to keep this track fresh – its undeniable that the beat knocks. ‘Raspy Shit’ brings things back to ’88 with a simple funk loop supporting P as he flows impressively, while casually jacking himself and Snoop (nh) for the hook. The obligatory ‘lights off’ track, ‘Take If Off’ somehow works despite Pharrell rather than because of him. Its almost as if the law of averages is being applied perfectly – the average singer, the average production, the cheesy hook… all combine to make this song sound better than it actually should be on paper. The inspirational but X-rated ‘You Can Do It Too’ educates up-and-comers on the ways of the industry without being overly-patronising, although Pharrell’s particular choice of ‘rewards for successful artists’ raises an eyebrow…
“Never in a million years I’d ‘magine I’d get my thrills,
By listening to squeals of the PJ wheels,
As we land I duck down, I stick my head up,
My dick is being sucked down by a bitch named what now”
What happened to just buying your mama a house? All is forgiven though as this particular tale of motivational therapy is related over a gorgeous, bluesy backing track.
So it seems like its not too bad, don’t it?
On further investigation though, this album is handicapped by the same issue as the two N*E*R*D albums (despite the relegation of Chad Hugo on this project to a mere ‘thank you’ note.) To be blunt – Pharrell does not have the personality to hold down an entire album as the main vocalist, and most of the best production work has already been sold to other artists. There are flashes of quality on the tracks above, but all too often we hear the same keyboards and synths that bored us first time around on the filler tracks from “In Search Of…” and “Fly Or Die” (‘Best Friend’, ‘Keep It Playa’, ‘Our Father’ are particularly formulaic) and the same contradictory messages of ‘jewelry boasts one minute, Jesus and the holy ghost the next’ that every other major label cat passes off as attempts to reach wider audiences.
Scope the tracklist again and it becomes clear what the main problem is – there are simply too many ‘girl’ tracks here. If he’s not babbling on about ‘That Girl’ to Snoop Dogg like some kind of Diet Bobby Valentino, then he’s blatantly biting Prince’s production steelo as he relates his tale about a ‘Young Girl’ to a bored Jigga. Meanwhile on ‘Stay With Me’ he begs another lady not to leave while Pusha T
laughs in the background drops a guest verse over some piano and Korg synth drudgery; and on ‘Baby’ he and Nelly try desperately to seduce some chicks over a beat that its obvious Robin Thicke already rejected. As for ‘Angel’ and ‘Number One’ – methinks these steaming dung-piles are better left unmentioned.
Where’s the realness? Where’s the street shit? Heh… I’m kidding. Its Pharrell, not Freddie Foxxx. But its perhaps worth wondering that if he can close an album with a cut as hard as ‘Show You How To Hustle’, and run around sporting a bandana and looking like he could fuck up some small children in the ‘Mr Me Too’ vid (nevermind produce the sick beat), then is the REAL reason that this album was beset by so many release-date issues more to do with Interscope making him produce more radio-friendly joints to replace the harder-edged stuff?
Its a shame that a project that many were anticipating has arrived sounding so restrained. Whether its through self-neutering or with the help of the label’s surgical skills, the end result has been a release that, if you grabbed the clean version, wouldn’t sound out of place as background music in a dentist or doctor’s waiting room. I’d recommend a thorough download and test-drive before shelling out for this.