Having already spawned six gigantic singles – featuring the likes of Rihanna, Kelis and Florence Welch – Calvin Harris’s third full-length release sounds less like an album and more like an hour of music chosen at random from any pop-music radio station in the world. The artist, DJ and super-producer’s work is now so ubiquitous and successful that weighing up the pros and cons of 18 Months almost seems like an afterthought.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Harris’s success is what it says about contemporary pop. Where artists would once turn to Quincy Jones for full-bodied funk or Timbaland for cutting-edge beats, stars such as Rihanna now call on the Scottish musician for the kind of 1990s house that would once have been ridiculed by American frat boys, but has now somehow become the essential soundtrack to spring-break pool parties. The Barbadian singer’s hands-in-the-air smash We Found Love (rebranded here as “Calvin Harris ft Rihanna”) is the ultimate evidence of this unlikely turn of events.
After the understated opener Green Valley (likely inserted only to make the album seem a little less like a Now That’s What I Call Music... compilation) comes Bounce, the kind of thumping floor-filler that Harris seems capable of producing in his sleep. But although all the necessary bases are covered, the featured artist Kelis seems wasted, delivering anodyne lyrics about looking forward to the weekend.
Ellie Goulding’s cameo on the Daft Punk-inspired I Need Your Love is more impressive, but its jarring transition into the Tinie Tempah dance-rap tune Drinking from the Bottle highlights the lack of cohesion on 18 Months. The London hip-hop artist Dizzee Rascal delivers some welcome idiosyncrasy on the frenetic Here 2 China – the album’s high point.
On the Ne-Yo-featuring Let’s Go, what seems like boilerplate R&B suddenly transforms into a full-blown assault of rave synths. It’s as if Harris feels obliged to furnish every track with the kind of giant drops that make dance floors quake.
His tunes may be carefully calibrated to fulfil the needs of radio listeners and clubbers alike, but in Harris’s efforts at recycling dance music’s best ideas into contemporary pop, something is lost. The synths may sound the same, but the optimism and originality has been replaced with something more finessed, characterless, even cynical.