Pharrell Williams: G I R L (Columbia)
The consensus is that one of the highlights of the last weeks Oscar Awards was Pharrell singing his hit Happy from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack which got some actors dancing in the aisles.
But 2013 was also an amazing career year for Pharrell where he was heavily involved with all three mega hit albums for Daft Punk, Beyoncé and Robin Thicke.
Pharrell is also known for his work with N.E.R.D. and The Neptunes especially as a producer and writer but G I R L marks only his second solo album since In My Mind (2006).
G I R L is a fine pop/R&B album. It isn’t without sophistication nor is it overly simple given the genre but it does sound almost effortless and often uncomplicated while remaining understated. Pharrell just has a few ready pop tunes he wants out there and here they are.
The aforementioned Happy is included but look for future hits with the bubbly Marilyn Monroe and the soulful reggae duet Know Who You Are with Alicia Keys.
Buzz cuts also include the high falsetto duet with Justine Timberlake on Brand New and the disco-pop-jazz of Gust Of Wind that will remind you of Daft Punks hit Get Lucky.
A nice little pop/R&B bonbon but don’t expect much deeper as Pharrell obviously didn’t want it that way.
The Fray: Helios (Epic)
There are four very solid new songs on this new album from The Fray. The problem is, this is not an EP but a full length album and the other seven songs are mostly uninteresting and aimless.
The disc starts out fine with the appealing arena rocker Hold My Hand and its simple Coldplay-like piano phrases.
Meanwhile there are some cool latter day Paul Westerberg rock melodics on Closer To Me and some nifty dance rock with Love Don’t Die co-written with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic fame.
My fave track is the very infectious INXS-like (Kick era) Give It Away but the rest of this disc comes off as sketchy and tuneless.
On the plus side, all of these songs are at least positive and sunny reflecting the CD title Helios.
Neil Finn: Dizzy Heights (Lester Records)
New Zealander Neil Finn has an amazing and large catalogue with huge hits with his former bands Split Enz and Crowded House. I heartily recommend any Best Of sets from those two ground breaking acts.
Finn also has a sizeable solo career with Dizzy Heights being album number six. For this new album Finn hired ace producer David Fridmann of artsy acts like Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips. Hence the airy and spacey sonics to this psyche-pop album where Finn bathes himself in ethereal and atmospheric sounds as befits his album title Dizzy Heights.
There are a few accessible gems here with the synth pop of the title track and the light funk of Flying In The Face Of Love that harkens back to some of his past glories.
And talk about a Crowded House—there are all kinds of Finns here with kids, spouses and I am guessing other relatives.