Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

The chances are you’ve come across Pharrell Williams’s work. As one of the production duo The Neptunes his fingerprints are on numerous hits. The list reads like a Who’s Who of US pop, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, Usher and Jay-Z being among those on The Neptunes’ CV.

Clearly not one of those producers who relish the anonymity of the mixing desk, Williams has a tendency to pop up on the songs he’s produced singing falsetto choruses. Now he’s taken his taste for performing to the next level by making a solo album In My Mind, which for someone with such an acute ear for pop hooks and imaginative beats is a mystifyingly shoddy collection of formless hip-hop tracks and scrappy R&B.

Wisely he chose to shelve most of its songs for this live outing and instead concentrated on playing Neptunes hits, backed by a live band complete with two drummers. It was a bold set-up compared to the usual rap show, where live musicians are a rarity, but the songs nonetheless struggled to catch the attention.

Williams wasn’t a natural performer. His sharp, boyish good looks guaranteed a healthy volume of screaming from his female fans and his falsetto croon was impressive, but he crucially lacked charisma. His rapping was at best proficient, at worst bland, and he looked a bit unwieldy on stage. When he reprised his backing vocals on Neptunes-produced songs such as Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” and Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful”, it was as if a supporting actor had pushed himself into the spotlight and then found himself at a loss for words.

It wasn’t quite a hopeless ego trip. Williams was canny enough not to bore us with cuts from In My Mind, and the rock beats that erupted periodically in the songs he did play went down well with his mainly white audience. But he’s got a long way to go to persuade us that his talents lie outside the recording studio.

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