Eighteen months; fifteen hackneyed songs: Calvin Harris absent amidst album of collaborative singles

Calvin Harris displaying his awards at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 6, 2012.

Calvin Harris displaying his awards at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 6, 2012. He won for Best Electronic Video for “Feel So Close” and for Video of the Year with Rihanna for “We Found Love.”

©2012 Rukes.com

Originally Published in The Badger Herald, November 2, 2012

It took Scottish DJ and producer Calvin Harris more than 18 months to complete his latest album, 18 Months. Although the album’s title likely represents the duration of time Harris took to release all the album’s tracks — from the date of the televised premier of its first single, “Bounce” (April 29, 2011) through the completed album’s release in the United Kingdom (Oct. 29) — other time markers are possible. For instance, in March 2011, Harris premiered another single from the album, called “Awooga.” Based on this release date, the album technically took at least 19 months to complete.

Of course, Harris obviously composed and produced tracks outside of this window, as artists often develop ideas for future works throughout their careers. The timing of 18 Months matters because it signals certain changes in Harris’ role as a performer and his production schedule are becoming permanent fixtures.

The most prominent of these trends include Harris’ heavy collaboration with pop singers, as well as the piecemeal schedule in which he releases tracks as singles before producing a completed album. In fact, Harris has repeatedly expressed to interviewers his desire to pursue both of these aims by DJing rather than touring with a band since the release of his previous album, Ready for the Weekend (2009).

Calvin Harris' "18 Months" was released in the UK on October 29th, 2012 – approximately 18 months after it's first single "Bounce" premiered.

Calvin Harris’ “18 Months” was released in the UK on October 29th, 2012 – approximately 18 months after it’s first single “Bounce” premiered.

©2012 Columbia Records

Harris’ collaboration with pop superstars has grown in recent years due to increasing attention paid to his anachronistic and quirky mixing style. Whether it was Madonna’s sampling of his song “I’m Not Alone” on her 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour or Kylie Minogue’s collaboration with Harris in her albums X (2007) and Aphrodite (2010), news media frequently refer to him as “one of the most in-demand” producers around. That 10 of the 15 tracks in 18 Months pass vocal responsibility to an extensive cast of performers — including Kelis, Example and Dizzee Rascal — makes this album no exception to that characterization.

While 18 Months features a different vocalist or rapper for each track, the structure of the songs themselves is relatively unchanging. After a few listens, they become tiresome. For example, take two tracks like “We Found Love,” sung by Rihanna, and “Sweet Nothing,” performed by Florence Welch.

©2012 Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

The two songs take their names from the refrains “We found love in a hopeless place” and “I’m living on such sweet nothing,” respectively. Although pretty, the choruses repeat ad nauseam with a seeming paranoia that the listener might forget the track title. The sobering content of drug use and violence, evident in the accompanying music videos, helps fill in the void left behind. In fact, the album’s music videos won Harris accolades at the MTV Video Music Awards.

The fact Harris relies on this visual component to provide substance leads one to question — sure, the album is a collection of dance music, which demands a clear tempo and predictable cadence, but why express these ideas so simplistically?

In “Let’s Go,” R&B artist Ne-Yo sings slightly different renditions of the refrain, “Let’s go!/ Make no excuses now/ I’m talking here and now.” Ne-Yo follows with a loop. “It’s not about what you’ve done/ It’s about what you doing/ It’s all about where you going/ No matter where you’ve been.” The second and third times, it feels like filler for Harris’ interjections of synthesized video-game pulses.

©2012 Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

Of course, Harris’ contributions as a DJ are interesting, and he plots new ground by dabbling into Benny Benassi electrostatic territory. However, great dance electronica does not preclude the composition of equally compelling lyrics —especially because Harris has precedent for doing so. Unlike the haunting poetry of “I’m Not Alone” from Harris’ last album, the raves of “We Found Love” and “Let’s Go” feel temporary and un-filling. Released as singles, their superficiality becomes annoying.

Despite Harris’ protestations, his singing, and its unconventionality, is part of his talent. It is easier to crucify 18 Months because we feel Harris’ absence after the party has ended.



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