David Guetta’s ‘Listen’: Album Review

Bradley Stern | November 25, 2014 6:12 am
David Guetta & Nicki Minaj, "Hey Mama": Listen
David Guetta's collaboration track with Nicki Minaj and Afrojack has arrived.

Today, David Guetta is a household name.

Although the French producer had been making waves on the dance floor back in his homeland well over a decade ago in the early ’00’s, it was his 2009 collaborative record One Love — the one that spawned global smashes like “When Love Takes Over” with Kelly Rowland and “Sexy Bitch” with Akon — that effectively turned the DJ into an overnight pop star in his own right.

His now tried-and-true formula, the pairing of distinct vocalists and some of the world’s biggest pop stars with pulverizing House beats, has since become status quo in an EDM-saturated world (an era for which he is largely responsible), influencing fellow DJs like Calvin Harris, Tiesto, Avicii — even Giorgio Moroder‘s forthcoming artist album feels like a response to the Guettafication of dance music. And with his sixth studio album, Listen (out November 24), Guetta shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

By now, Guetta seems somewhat aware that the tried-and-true EDM formula’s becoming tired, and he’s delving into new sounds and styles: It’s there in the slick ’80’s, Drive soundtrack-like sheen of opening track “Dangerous” with Sam Martin. No predictable slow builds and beat drops to be heard across this surprisingly rich, orchestral production. Similarly, the Western-tinged, Avicii co-helmed swagger of the Sam Martin-assisted “Lovers On The Sun” adds some interesting new, twangy sounds to the DJ’s repertoire.

There are new, distinct voices added to the bunch as well: UK songbird Emeli Sande supplies her powerhouse pipes on the piano-helmed “What I Did For Love,” which feels like a slight nod to the ever-growing early ’90’s throwback sound of radio today. “All Of Me” singer-songwriter John Legend provides his earnest, soulful vocals on the album’s pulsating title track, which already sounds like a remix of a Top 10 radio hit.

That being said, many of the songs still feel like more obvious bows to EDM festival culture, including the reggae-tinged racket that is “No Money No Love” with Elliphant, Showtek and Ms. Dynamite, as well as the by-the-numbers build of “Goodbye Friend” with The Script. Elsewhere, “Am I Wrong?” crooners Nico & Vinz and Ladysmith Black Mambazo come in for an uplifting, if not entirely generic moment with “Lift Me Up.” These new voices might be intriguing, but the template is essentially the same.

Of all the new voices, however, it’s “I Can’t Stop Drinking About You” songstress Bebe Rexha who provides one of the album’s best moments in “Yesterday”: Armed with yelping chants and catchy guitar riffs, the song is an unexpected blend of killer vocals, rave-tastic synthesizers — even a dramatic orchestral finish. And that’s not her only victory, either: She also serves up the huge, horn-assisted chorus on the Nicki Minaj-assisted “Hey Mama,” a fiery banger that sees the talented rapstress getting real submissive for her man (“Yes, I do the cooking/Yes, I do the cleaning”) above twerk-friendly beats. It’s hot, even if the gender role enforcement is a little…err.

The album also boasts his most successful collaborator to date: Sia. Here, the “Chandelier” songstress provides two tracks, including the utterly explosive “Bang My Head,” which builds on the pair’s past successes with “Titanium” and “She Wolf (Falling To Pieces)” for what is perhaps their most dizzying, hi-octane collaboration to date.

By contrast, Guetta invites Sia to showcase her more vulnerable side on this album with their comparatively stripped-down second offering, “The Whisperer,” a haunting piano and string-laden ballad that closes out the standard edition of the LP. It’s a much-needed sigh of relief following a torrent of loud, banging sound.

In an age of the folk-tinged EDM of “Wake Me Up”-style Avicii and calmer, nostalgic beats thanks to ’90’s-leaning acts like Disclosure, Clean Bandit (“Rather Be”) and Route 94 (“My Love”), Listen doesn’t feel as thrilling as efforts by his contemporaries. But while he might not be leading the pack, Guetta is still paying attention and expanding his sound — and he’s still got plenty to provide for the dance floor.

Possible Future Singles: “Bang My Head” with Sia, “Yesterday” with Bebe Rexha and “Listen” with John Legend all deserve to dominate radio in the near future.

Best Listened To: At the gym, in the club or anywhere you’re looking to break a sweat.

Idolator Score: 3.5/5

— Bradley Stern