There is a famous joke in the classical music world that, while Vivaldi may have written 500 concertos, it sounds as if he wrote the same one 500 times. The same concept may begin to apply to Scottish DJ Calvin Harris. His fourth studio album, Motion, was released in late October and expectations were high because of the album’s predecessor, 18 Months. Almost every track on 18 Months was a hit, so much so that they are experiencing continued success (show me one person who’s sick of “We Found Love”, I dare you). Coming off of this momentum, Motion had some big shoes to fill. The challenge for Harris was to create stylistically different music than what was found on 18 Months while still maintaining his signature sound.
Tracks such as “Summer”, “Blame”, and “Outside” shine as the singles from the album. “Summer” was debatably the song of summer 2014 — you could not turn on the radio, walk into a store, or attend a party without hearing this massive tune. Its swirling, building, and punching beats induced the urge to sway or jump around no matter where it came on. Pairing with British singer John Newman, “Blame” characterizes itself as a vocally and musically intense explanation of a cheating boyfriend and a plea for forgiveness that kept heads bobbing for months. “Outside”, Harris’ second collaboration with English singer, Ellie Goulding, establishes itself as the star of the album. When these two get together, amazing things happen. Goulding lends her airy but powerful vocals (previously heard on“I Need Your Love” from 18 Months) to Harris’ classic gripping hooks, making fans crave more from this unstoppable duo.
A few other songs from the album deserve recognition. “Love Now” is a grooving track with incredibly strong vocals from All About She. It’ll leave you believing that you too want to love now and you do want to “feeeeeeel”. Also holding its own is “Pray to God” which showcases Haim. They bring their own flair to the track, especially with their recognizable guitar entries, creating the feeling that this is just as much their song as it is his. Finally, “Dollar Signs”, featuring Tinashé, showcases smooth verses mixed in with a metallic chorus that makes for a whirlwind of a song.
If we return to the idea that Harris may be beginning to recycle some of his well-loved hooks, we can point to a few examples. The first two tracks, “Faith” and “Under Control”, as well as Gwen Stefani’s song, “Together”, give listeners a sense of déjà vu — they’re recognizable as ‘Calvin Harris songs’, but their status as a ‘Calvin Harris smash hit’ is undetermined. It’s clear that Harris has a defined style but it takes a certain something for his songs to reach another level, an element that these songs appear to lack.
Songs deviating from the general vibe of the album include “Slow Acid”, “Overdrive”, and “Open Wide”. All seem slightly more aggressive than what the album as a whole strives to communicate, but they have their perks.
The aptly named “Slow Acid” is a lucid and captivating track, amplified by closing one’s eyes and allowing the music to take control while “Overdrive” is the musical equivalent of chasing a vodka and Red Bull with Four Loko — there is not a song more deserving of its title than this one.
Harris collaborates with Big Sean on “Open Wide”, a track which may have been better just as an instrumental. Big Sean’s rap doesn’t really correlate with any other song on the album and is perhaps more misogynistic than what fans will hope to encounter. But, this may be the strongest track on the album in terms of production quality. These wildcards might not blend in perfectly with the rest of the album but at least Harris demonstrates that he’s capable of creating music different from what he’s produced thus far.
Overall, Motion did a good job of not riding on 18 Months’ coattails. The album as a whole is very characteristically ‘Calvin Harris’ with crowd pleasers in abundance. He does, however add a few new elements fans might not have been expecting. Moving forward, I hope to see the next album evolve more fully and allow Harris to prove to fans that he is, indeed, not the Vivaldi of our time.