Although packed with Top 40 material and featuring some of the best in the business, electro-pop wunderkind's third studio album offers too much of the same and not enough novelty
CALVIN HARRIS/ 18 MONTHS
Scottish singer, DJ and producer Calvin Harris was virtually unheard of outside the UK when his debut album, I Created Disco, hit record shop racks back in 2007. But with the success of its follow-up, Ready for the Weekend, Harris instantly became one of the top names in the UK electronic music scene and, later, the world's, thanks to the boom in electronic dance music and his collaborations with artists including Kelis, LMFAO, Kylie Minogue and most recently Barbadian pop diva Rihanna. Written and produced by Harris, We Found Love topped most charts around the world, and basically catapulted the Scotsman to unprecedented international superstardom. Working with Rihanna, according to him, ''changed absolutely everything. Career-wise it was the best thing that could ever have happened.''
Now a household name in the US, Harris rode on the wave of the We Found Love phenomenon and sustained its buzz by embarking on tours earlier this year (Bangkok included). Now he's back with the release of 18 Months, his eagerly anticipated third studio album. Armed with a throng of A-listers including Ne-Yo, Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine), Ellie Goulding and Tinie Tempah, this 15-song collection is hell-bent on getting you up and moving.
Opening the album, the sub-two minute prelude Green Valley doesn't really leave a lasting impression, but works great as a warm-up track because the beat only goes upwards from here. There are a handful of diva-assisted numbers from the buoyant Kelis-assisted Bounce and the cutesy I Need Your Love (featuring Ellie Goulding) to We Found Love and Sweet Nothing. The latter is an arena-sized standout, thanks to the stunning vocal performance of Florence Welch.
While a fine producer, Harris, as evidenced by his previous two albums and early hits, also holds his own as a singer. Not relying on a guest vocalist, bangers Feel So Close and We'll Be Coming Back (featuring Example) make for a refreshing listen and reaffirm that this is indeed a Calvin Harris record, not just a compilation.
Elsewhere on 18 Months, you'll find even more star-studded collaborations. Besides the slightly outdated Let's Go (featuring Ne-Yo), the fun and cheerful Here 2 China and Drinking from the Bottle feature two of the UK's most celebrated rappers, Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah. On the other hand, club ravers Iron and Thinking About You see lesser-known collaborators including Dutch DJ Nicky Romero and Jordanian drum and bass vocalist Ayah Marar.
With the exception of Sweet Nothing, the tracks we're most excited about in the end are either the ones on which he sings himself or the instrumental gems such as Mansion, Awooga and the super funky School. Unlike I Created Disco and Ready for the Weekend, Harris' latest offering unfortunately gets bogged down with collaborative efforts and relies excessively on the same formulaic production we've heard one too many times before.
Abuse the Youth/ DeuyKwamJing Jai
Even if you're not familiar with their music, the name Abuse the Youth must ring a bell as this indie rock trio has played at perhaps every major music festival and opened for many international bands that have set foot in Thailand. Now with a major label, the threesome gives us DeuyKwamJing Jai (Honestly), a cut from their second album. Apart from the raw-sounding riffs and dynamic drums, the song feels constrained and clinical, lacking the unhinged energy the band were initially known for.
Bruno Mars/ Locked Out of Heaven
The American R&B crooner of Just the Way You Are fame marks his return with Locked Out of Heaven, an energetic, fast-paced number so uncharacteristic of Mars. Fans of his sentimental ballads will most likely be taken aback either by the retro Michael Jackson-esque sound or the racy lyrics where he claims that ''your sex takes me to paradise'' and ''I'm born again every time you spend the night.'' Perhaps we've become too accustomed to him serenading us with his piano and lovey-dovey songwriting, that's why the track comes off sounding like Mars is trying to channel other artists' personas, such as Jacko or Maroon 5's Adam Levine.
Jake Bugg/ Two Fingers
The singing-songwriting 19-year-old Nottingham native appeared on the music scene like a breath of fresh air, especially in an era seemingly dominated by electronic dance music artists and boy bands. With looks that resemble a young Ian Brown from the Stone Roses and a sound evocative of Bob Dylan, Bugg also exudes good old rock 'n' roll tendencies when it comes to music. ''I drink to remember, I smoke to forget/Some things to be proud of, some stuff to regret/Been down some dark alleys in my own head/Something is changing, changing, changing,'' he sings like a seasoned troubadour with a worldly poise well beyond his teenage years. Definitely one to watch.
Rebecca Ferguson/ Backtrack
Of all its past contestants, The X Factor class of 2010 graduate Rebecca Ferguson is probably the most memorable when it comes to her distinct, full-bodied vocals. Taken from a deluxe re-release of her 2011 debut album Heaven, Backtrack is a sassy soul-pop number that immediately pits Furguson against the soul greats like Aretha Franklin, Macy Gray, Adele and even the late Amy Winehouse. ''You backtrack and change your act/At a hundred likes a minute/But fool as I am I won't go along with it,'' even when she's reprimanding her cheating lover, she still sounds warm and strangely approachable.
Justin Bieber (featuring Nicki Minaj)/ Beauty and a Beat
In this inevitable rent-a-rapper collaboration, pop heartthrob Justin Bieber shares his limelight with Nicki Minaj, who doesn't make an appearance until well after we're fed up with Bieber going on about how he'd like to ''party like it's 3012 tonight'' and ''show you all the finer things in life''. When she finally does, though, the wait is all worth it. ''In time, ink lines, b-bitches couldn't get on my incline/World tour, it's mine, 10 little letters, on a big sign,'' Minaj boldly announces her arrival over the tame, ubiquitous dubstep break that the track could frankly do without.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai