Monday, November 24, 2014

Listen | David Guetta


★★★☆☆

November has been a great month for fans of the ever-changing genre of electronic dance music, as the beginning of the month welcomed Calvin Harris' Motion and the end of the month has brought us a new studio album from French DJ David Guetta. Aptly titled Listen, the new album brings listeners fourteen new tracks, while the deluxe cut offers four extra tracks, including two with singer-songwriter Skylar Grey. With names like Nicki Minaj and Ryan Tedder as listed collaborators, this album should seem like a good purchase even without listening to any samples, but one Listen to the set may say otherwise. Guetta has been in the industry for over a decade and is now on his sixth album cycle, but it looks as if the forty-seven year old Guetta just can't keep up with the new kids on the block.

With Listen, Guetta has the thrown listeners multiple curveballs, starting with the release of a hazy, western-fused electronic rework of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" with vocalist Skylar Grey. While the United States was gypped out of "Shot Me Down," the Wild West still slides into the lead single from Listen, "Lovers on the Sun." Guetta took a risk by placing unknown vocalist Sam Martin on both "Lovers on the Sun" and his second single, "Dangerous," and it seems to have backfired on him in the United States. While both singles have done very well elsewhere, Guetta is driving himself back into the ground in the States. Sadly, "Dangerous" is also lacking any sonic signature of David Guetta's electronic roots. When thinking of electronic dance musicians, many listeners nod back to well-crafted electronic synths and booming bass; this isn't the case for "Dangerous," with its piano-based introduction, alternating synth patterns, and natural string outro. As the track blossoms with sexy '80s influences, it becomes more infectious, but there isn't a true climax to look forward to as the track plays.

As a DJ who has aimed for widespread popularity and notoriety, especially with Nothing But the Beat, David Guetta requested vocal assistance from a few notable names of the year for Listen. He managed to reel in the handiwork of the multi-faceted Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic), one-hit wonder outfits Magic! and Nico & Vinz, and industry-heavyweight John Legend, but also looked towards currently-underground artists like Bebe Rexha and Elliphant. American listeners may remember names like Emeli Sandé and The Script, who each experienced a small boost of popularity stateside due to "Next to Me" and "Breakeven," respectively. Sandé landed a spot on Listen's next single, "What I Did for Love," a track that expands by surprise from a pop ballad to a electropop hit. On the contrary, "Goodbye Friend" with The Script holds true to the traditional electronic dance formula as it erupts into a glittery ecstasy of peppy synths similar to that of Coldplay and Avicii's "Sky Full of Stars." 

Nicki Minaj, who has had her fair share of success this year and previously worked with Guetta on "Turn Me On" and "Where Them Girls At," slides in for vocal credits on "Hey Mama," a carefree, sex-oriented track filled with blaring electronic horns and synths. One other returning collaborator that we can also be glad to see on this track list? Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler. While "Titanium" is able to hold its place as the pinnacle of David Guetta and Sia's work together, both "Bang My Head" and "The Whisperer" from Listen are far from subpar. Listen's equivalent to "Titanium" comes in the form of "Bang My Head," a radio hit waiting to happen featuring an explosive breakdown and a new set of inspiration lyrics from Sia: "You'll find what you're searching for / And you might feel light-headed / You think you're going to hit the floor / Instead you rise above it all / Bang your head against the wall." Meanwhile, thanks to its piano-heavy ballad style, the only indication of Guetta's presence on "The Whisperer" is the vocal production given to Sia's pipes. It would have made more sense for the track to be placed on Sia's own 1000 Forms of Fear with the tag "Sia feat. David Guetta," but that doesn't make it a bad track. In fact, it's still one of the most stand-out tracks on the album thanks to its moving melody line and chorus.

Strangely, Listen is more of a production portfolio for Guetta and less about the electronic dance music that should be his main focus. Will this mark Guetta's transition to a song producer à la Max Martin or will.i.am? There could be a good chance, as one of his feet is now planted in pop production and the other still in electronic dance. His nearest contemporary, Calvin Harris, recently entered the realm of electropop songwriter and producer under his ex-girlfriend Rita Ora but still aimed the focus of his most recent full-length album at the electronic dance jugular. Guetta, on the other hand, has simply gathered a large amount of vocalists to practice production styles under; there are plenty of songs for him to toy with electronic roots, but the album lacks full instrumental tracks to strut electronic handiwork. This is David Guetta's album, but it's a shame we can't hear more of David Guetta on it.

Listen is out now under Atlantic Recordings and Parlophone Records.

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