His bosh-pop collabs with Dizzee and Flo rule the charts
The title of Calvin Harris’ third album seems like a pre-emptive strike – as in, “No, honestly, it’s only been 18 months since the lead single came out”. And it does seem longer that we’ve been living and loving with ‘Bounce’, his laser-targeted, slinky collab with Kelis. Along with the similarly long-in-the-tooth ‘Feel So Close’ and ‘We Found Love’, it adds a sense of familiarity and ubiquity that’s both the defining feature of this record and an inevitable symptom of Harris’ quite ridiculous success. If it sounds generic, it’s because Harris has made himself a genre.
It’s been five years since his neon-toned, wackadoodle retro-electro debut ‘I Created Disco’ came out, and the blond-haired, tanned, globe-humping superstar DJ that stands before us in 2012 is almost unrecognisable. Saved from being another quirky electro-berk destined to sparkle, squiggle and fade (see: Esser, Sam Sparro, Dan Black, etc) by the romping success of his Dizzee Rascal team-up ‘Dance Wiv Me’, Harris cannily ditched quirkiness in favour of emotive euphoria, and ‘I’m Not Alone’ changed the course of his career forever.
However you feel about Harris and Example’s breed of genre-magpie-ing, multi-collaborating bosh-pop becoming the fabric on which the UK charts are stitched, you have to afford them respect. It’s not exactly clever, no. It doesn’t push anything forward. But it zings with exhilaration, happiness and youth, and those things, in a world where Jessie Ware is some people’s idea of great modern pop music, should not be underestimated. If you can listen to ‘I’m Not Alone’, or ‘We Found Love’, or Harris’ recent heavyweight bout with Example, ‘We’ll Be Coming Back’, without wanting to kiss someone, you might want to check your wiring.
That sort of energy rarely drops here; the highest points apart from the earlier singles are the heart-in-mouth urgent Ellie Goulding guest spot on the effervescent, sky-kissing, big-womping ‘I Need Your Love’ and Florence’s dance-diva turn (back for more, having tasted Harris magic in his wildly successful ‘Spectrum (Say My Name)’ remix) on the p-p-p-p-powing power-house of ‘Sweet Nothing’. Tinie Tempah is charmingly bullish on ‘Drinking From The Bottle’, rescuing what would have been a pretty run-of-the-treadmill gym-trance number, while Dizzee makes a courtesy call on ‘Here 2 China’ that adds some welcome heft and grit amid the shiny, streamlined builds and drops and pings and pops.
‘Thinking About You’, on the other hand, with the more typically personality-free, mannerism-heavy dance vocals of Ayah, is glossily impressive yet totally forgettable. It confirms the sense that with his step away from vocals and into the background, becoming more producer than personality, Harris’ theatre of war is now in the club, not on CD. Why you’d ever listen to this album out of that context if you weren’t either driving overnight or running a marathon, I have no idea. The best collaborations stand alone, but the rest demands small hours and sweat to animate it.
Harris’ transformation, his productions and collaborations, have made him a key player in the last few years of UK chart music, a vital thread in the stitching together of grime, pop and dance into a bosh-pop behemoth. Like it or not, it’s Calvin’s world, and you, me, and the entire Mercury shortlist are all just eking out some space in it. Yet compared to his mate Example, who makes this sort of stuff a more engaging daytime crossover by stamping his personality all over it, Calvin seems to have turned himself from a clown into a blank in the process of becoming a phenomenon.
Maybe that’s how he likes it, but it’s a shame; this album feels more like a deserved victory lap than a forward step or a new instalment, but apart from his sole vocal on ‘Feel So Close’, the victor seems oddly absent.