Pharrell, Brixton Academy, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Pharrell is only two songs in, and the baking metaphors are flying off the shelf. "Just picture yourself holdin' pies," he suggests, like a pie sales rep, on "How Does It Feel?" "Implement a plan and and you'll surely rise/ Shaking, boiling, lacing, baking, shaking, shaping, gotta get this cake right!"

As one half of the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams, the Quincy Jones of the Noughties, has been the executive chef of pop's menu since he whipped up Kelis's Kaleidoscope in 1999. His solo album, In My Mind, was supposed to be Pharrell's pièce de résistance. But despite being in the oven for three years, it was a choice 25lb turkey when it finally came to the table this summer. The press has had its carving knives out for this tour. That cake needed to rise.

Pharrell doesn't have what it takes to be a half-decent rapper, and with a band who often sounded like they'd have difficulty boiling an egg, he was left with two key ingredients: his celebrity, and a few signature dishes cooked up in his days with N*E*R*D. The cake did eventually rise, after a fashion, but chef had to put an awful lot of work in.

A first course consisting of the new songs "Can I Have It Like That?" and "Raspy " didn't help. The baloney about Lear jets and Miami cribs is a stew of tasteless hip-hop clichés. Pharrell used to call himself DRUGS, the Describer of Reality under God's Supervision, but now refers to himself as Skateboard P. He still checks in with the Big Homie in the Sky, though. "Jesus is my daddy," he tells us on In My Mind's sin against originality, "Our Father".

Had the Creator forsaken him? With the cake falling fast, Pharrell grinned glassy-eyed around the room, like Tom Cruise working the Leicester Square crowds. "Turn up the lights," he ordered. "I want to see all my friends." If you've listened to the pillow talk on In My Mind's grim R Kelly pastiche, "Take It Off (Dim the Lights)", you would want the lights to remain very much up.

Pharrell's musings on the "booty" are legendary. "She's got an ass like a loaf of bread /You wanna slice?" he croons on "Angel", in that sub-Curtis Mayfield mewl. Pharrell strives for the Prince effect, but he sounds like Bobby Valentino on work experience.

The Michael Jackson-lite of "Number 1" is an improvement. But it's those enduring N*E*R*D songs - "Rock Star", "Lapdance", "Brain" - that see Pharrell's cake take shape. However, barely an hour and no encore? In Pharrell's mind, it must make perfect sense.

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