Inconsistency seems to be hard-wired into Pharrell Williams' musical DNA. With (and increasingly without) his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, Williams has produced an astonishing number of perfect pop singles, from "Grindin'" to "Hot In Herre" to "Drop It Like It's Hot." But The Neptunes are also guilty of selling minor variations on the same forgettable beat to dozens of artists. As a solo artist, Williams suggests, at his best, a postmodern anime version of Curtis Mayfield. At worst, he sounds like a tone-deaf teenager warbling in the shower. Both Pharrells show up on In My Mind, his long-awaited, long-delayed solo debut.
The production on "Can I Have It Like That," the album's non-starter of a first single, mines the same narrow sonic territory as seemingly half Williams' songs, but like many of his beats, it boasts a crude, insinuating power that only becomes apparent over time. Far better is "Number One," a knockout single that layers percolating, energized synths over a lush soul groove. On "Number One," Kanye West joins in, and it's strangely poignant listening to Williams swagger alongside the man who usurped his position as the hottest producer in hip-hop: It's like watching a factory worker befriend the robot that replaced him.
On the album's more rap-oriented first few tracks, Williams labors under the delusion that a long list of the luxury items he owns is of interest to anyone other than his insurance agent and burglars in his area. "Best Friend" and "You Can Do It Too" take the album in a more intimate, introspective direction, while the amusingly strained falsetto of "Angel" sounds like a cross between Prince and a losing high-school talent-show contestant. In My Mind intermittently shares the ingratiating weirdness of Williams' N.E.R.D. side project, but his shaky rhyming and occasionally off-key crooning suggest he shouldn't quit his day job cranking out beats anytime soon.