Calvin Harris’ ’18 Months’: Album Review

Robbie Daw | October 30, 2012 5:45 am
Calvin Harris‘ third LP 18 Months (out today, ) starts not with a bang, but with a minute-and-a-half-long instrumental (save for a loop of a female voice uttering “oh”) called “Green Valley.” It’s a very brief respite before the hits coming rolling in like a locomotive — and, really, 18 Months is the perfect title, since it feels like the Scottish producer/DJ has been releasing singles from this album for about that length of time, ahead of the record’s release.

Harris’ sophomore outing Ready For The Weekend was out in 2009. But what a difference three years — and, more specifically, one global chart-shattering pair-up with Rihanna — can make.

Calvin kicked things off with 18 Months back in 2011, with the premiere of the instrumental track “Awooga” and the release of the Kelis-featuring lead single “Bounce” — a tune that lyrically finds the divorced diva embracing her newfound freedom by bouncing out on the weekend. The latter unsurprisingly was a hit across Europe and in Australia, but did little to rustle up interest among US record buyers.

But then came Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” a buoyant, beat-driven floor-filler writen and produced by Harris that topped two dozen charts by the end of last year. Enter the era of Calvin Harris, Hot Commodity. Suddenly he found himself enlisted to produce tracks for Mary J. Blige, Scissor Sisters, Cheryl Cole and Ke$ha. Conveniently, this all happened while recording for 18 Months was going on, which allowed for a some cashing in of clout credit and calling in return-favors.

Make no mistake, the roster of guest is impressive here: Ellie Goulding, Florence Welch, Ne-Yo, Tinie Tempah, Example and Nicky Romero, to name a few. Ironically, it was “Feel So Close,” sung by Harris himself, that became his first post-“We Found Love” hit in the States.

But what makes 18 Months such a breath of fresh air in the cluttered world of EDM at the moment is that Calvin himself has not only expanded on his sound for his third outing, he’s also reinvented it. Thankfully, the other 14 tracks don’t sound like rehashes of “We Found Love.”

For instance, Ellie Goulding’s moment on the album, “I Need Your Love,” is a blipping-and-bleeping moment of pop brilliance — so much so that we wish Harris had been able to spare a few tracks for Goulding’s own recent release, Halcyon. Other highlights include the vocal-less slice of ’70s throwback funk “School,” as well as “We’ll Be Coming Back” and “Sweet Nothing,” pair-ups with fellow UK artists Example and Florence Welch, respectively. With these songs, Calvin demonstrates his ability to understand what separates quality dance music from the chaff: the need for there to be some heart among the boom.

Even when the cuts feel a bit derivative, such as with “Iron” — where it sounds as if Harris’ ears had perhaps overdosed on Daft Punk‘s Tron soundtrack — there’s enough hook and melody among the squiggling synths to keep things from becoming derailed.

Clearly this is Calvin’s moment, and there’s no cooler go-to guy in pop, currently. So it’s nice to hear him making the most of his talents by pushing himself to produce quality tracks that don’t all sound the same, where others in his position would perhaps default to spreading themselves too thin.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: In the mood for a little retro house? You can’t go wrong with “Thinking About You,” which features vocals by Jordanian expat Ayah Marar. She may be thinking about you, but this jam has got us thinking about 1993.

Pops Like: The perfect soundtrack to the perfect party you always wanted to throw. C’mon — start typing out that damn Evite, already!

Best Listened To: While in the company of others who are popping and locking just like you, you dancing maniac.

Rating: 4/5

Robbie Daw