Pharrell finds time for first solo CD

CD Review

July 25, 2006|By SEAN PICCOLI | SEAN PICCOLI,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

If there is a divide between art and commerce, nobody told Pharrell Williams about it.

A producer, songwriter and occasional singer and rapper, the Virginia-born Williams hasn't had to defend his artistic credibility even as he's gotten rich. His best-known work for others - "Milkshake" by Kelis, Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot," Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" - garnered more praise than resentment from critics for its cleverness. The first album by his own rap-rock band, N.E.R.D., came nowhere near the sales figures he's helped his famous clients achieve.

In My Mind (Interscope), the solo debut attributed simply to "Pharrell," combines the music-making he's done as a producer, collaborator and band mate. If the rhymes on In My Mind don't thrill quite as much as the beats and hooks, Williams still has made an album that's compulsively listenable.

The opener and first single, "Can I Have It Like That," is a bankbook rap. Williams describes a career arc that took him from looking up at "gray clouds" to looking down from "out the window of the Lear." A cameo by Gwen Stefani is more of a footnote: She drops in just to say, "You got it like that." But that's all the chorus requires, and Williams is right not to overwrite her role.

Williams carves out more space for Jay-Z on a spacey R&B opus, "Young Girl/I Really Like You," but the rapper, now a record-label president, makes a less-than-momentous appearance. Collaborations with Snoop ("That Girl"), Slim Thug ("Keep It Playa") and Kanye West ("Number One") sound more natural and conversational. As the album goes along, Williams drifts from rapping to singing, setting his Prince-like falsetto to inventive tracks. There's an experimental weirdness to Williams' ideas that could have come from the laboratory of psychedelic soul man Shuggie Otis.

But where Otis became a recluse, Williams wants to be in the world and make it spin to his beats. No idea stays locked up in his head for very long, and Williams seems to thrive on the demands and risks of being prolific.

Sean Piccoli writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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