When listening to Calvin Harris' new full-length "18 Months," it's easy to be reminded of David Guetta's 2009 album "One Love." Like that fourth studio album, which featured hits like "Sexy Bitch," "When Love Takes Over" and "Gettin' Over You," Harris' third album represents a jab into the shoulder of mainstream American pop music, by a European maestro who's already perfected his craft. Following his breakout last year as the collaborator on Rihanna's chart-topper "We Found Love," the Scottish electro-house producer has quietly amassed an arsenal of hits both stateside ("Feel So Close," "Let's Go") and overseas ("Sweet Nothing," "Bounce"). "18 Months" gathers a year and a half of hits into one tidy package -- and, like "One Love," the album is Harris' most surefire bid to step out of the "Produced By" shadows and become a recognizable U.S. pop artist on his own. In this, he follows Guetta, and not many others.
"18 Months" is not as cohesive of an album as it would like to be, and some of the non-single tracks fail to touch the pleasure points that a song like "We Found Love" unlocks. But then again, "We Found Love" is one of the strongest singles of the past two years, and "18 Months" has about five more songs -- again, most of which have already graced radio for months -- that reach its stratosphere. The fresh successes arrive in unlikely packages, such as in the shorter arrangements "Mansion" and "School." And "I Need Your Love," a collaboration with Ellie Goulding that appears as a bonus track on her "Halcyon" album, is a large-hearted winner that could be the follow-up hit to "Lights" that the U.K. singer is searching for.
Harris has already proven his production mettle; his appetite for crowd-pleasing synth lines and scorching percussion is well-documented, as is his penchant for pummeling his audience with verse-chorus pop calisthenics. There are no "daring" songs on here, and nothing is overly abstract. But why be post-modern when you can call up your contemporary pop stars and rule Top 40 radio? "18 Months" has a certain set of goals in its sights, and Harris (alongside an all-star roster of vocalists and co-producers) resoundingly achieves these goals. "One Love" just got a precocious younger brother for all the cool pop kids to play with.
You've heard the hits. But which songs on "18 Months" are top-notch? Check out this track-by-track review of Calvin Harris' latest.
1. Green Valley - A dreamier track than his uptempo brushstrokes, "Green Valley" allows Harris to fiddle around with stuttering vocals and bass before the first high kicks in.
2. Bounce feat. Kelis
The presence of Kelis, who tries her darnedest to blend in but is miscast here, can't hinder one of the album's most delirious synth lines. Tellingly, "Bounce" rolls when the vocals drops out on the chorus, ceding center stage to Harris' plush vibrations.
3. Feel So Close
Harris' declaration of "Screw it, I'm gonna handle the vocals on this one myself" proved to be a brilliant one -- his syrupy delivery hums along when coupled with one of the year's most effective rave-ups. "Feel So Close" is wisely placed near the top of "18 Months," right next to his other monster hit...
4. We Found Love feat. Rihanna
Pop fans who don't happen to live under rocks likely remember this sparkling ode to finding love in a hopeless place, complete with Rihanna talking just the right amount of talk as Harris' beat does the heavy lifting. One year later, this single still burns.
5. We'll Be Coming Back feat. Example
After two stunners, the kinetic stomp of "We'll Be Coming Back" can't mask an unsteady guest spot by Example, which is marked by vague lyrical darts. A letdown from "Feel So Close" and "We Found Love" was inevitable, though.
6. Mansion - If Daft Punk's "Da Funk" was a feature film, this track would be the TV spin-off. With an instrumental as opulently textured as its title suggests, "Mansion" pays homage to the French masterminds while fitting snugly alongside the rest of these tracks.
7. Iron with Nicki Romero - The Dutch producer joins Harris for a dubstep-inflected composition that becomes absolutely pummeling as it builds to a merciless climax. As abrasive as it sounds on record, "Iron" cannot be discounted as a live eruption.
8. I Need Your Love feat. Ellie Goulding - Every fiber in Goulding's fragile voice carries so much warmth that no amount of synthetic clutter can dim a line like, "Tell me, do you feel the same?/Hold me in your arms again." Harris' beat is a bit too strenuous here, but Goulding carries "I Need Your Love" into the top third of the album's tracks.
9. Drinking From The Bottle feat. Tinie Tempah - The first entry with a rapper as guest feature is another YOLO anthem, with Tinie Tempah making Kardashian jokes in between shouts of, "Forget about tomorrow... tonight, we're drinking from the bottle!" It's no "Pass Out," but Tempah's presence on a standard club track is at least a welcome curveball.
10. Sweet Nothing feat. Florence Welch
The bass glimmers underneath Welch's operatic chants, as the singer, freed momentarily from her well-oiled Machine, gets to re-imagine her career as a dance goddess. The album's latest hit single -- it recently landed at No. 1 in the U.K. -- delivers its irresistible throb via a special voice.
11. School - Like "Mansion," "School" is a slickly produced breather that clocks in at roughly two minutes and conveys a Daft Punk Lite vibe. Elegant house music is usually harder to come by than this, and "School" outshines several of the songs with featured vocalists.
12. Here 2 China with Dillion Francis, feat. Dizzee Rascal - At two minutes and 33 seconds, "Here 2 China" finds time to allow Dizzee, on auto-pilot, to let loose a few choice boasts while Harris concocts a wiry collection of sounds with Dillon Francis. A lesser track to be sure, and one that might have been more durable if it had just been an instrumental.
13. Let's Go feat. Ne-Yo
Imagine Usher's "Scream" with a slightly more engaging arrangement, and you have "Let's Go," a song that doesn't deserve to be listened to outside of a sweaty dance floor. Like "We Found Love" or "Feel So Close," this single sticks to Harris' winning production formula: pull back at the right times, slam your foot on the gas when the listener is craving for an explosion, and let a more-than-capable vocalist shine in the foreground.
14. Awooga - Laser blasts and skillfully calibrated percussion -- and, sure, the goofy title, too -- beg for some fist-pumping. Once it gets going, "Awooga" bowls the listener over with neon electro-pop; pit that it only lasts four minutes, barely enough time for complete delirium.
15. Thinking About You feat. Ayah Marah - Perhaps not as well-known as some of the collaborators on here, but Ayah Marah exhibits a natural ease next to Harris' sonic goodies. "In a moment, I know that everything can change," she coos about a romantic relationship, but also perhaps nodding to a star-making feature.