Though his 2007 debut album I Invented Disco has its flaws, Scottish producer Calvin Harris can rightly stake his claim as one of the architects of the electronic dance revolution that’s been gripping pop music since last year. Harris (real name: Adam Richard Wiles) has been huge in the UK for half a decade, during which he’s been a constant party-rockin’ presence on the global festival circuit. But he didn’t become a household name stateside until 2011 thanks to his production work and co-billing on Rihanna’s effervescent No. 1 smash “We Found Love.” That led to his own hit, “Feel So Close,” and a gig as the house DJ at the VMAs among other world-conquering feats. His last 18 months have been an impressive star turn even in a musical landscape jammed with ascendant DJs, hence a new album called 18 Months documenting Harris’ meteoric rise.
Harris has benefited more than most DJs from his genre’s widespread popularity. His leap to a new echelon of fame can be directly tied to the phrase “featuring Calvin Harris” getting affixed to “We Found Love” in spite of Harris not singing a word. But 2012’s oontz-oontz saturation also threatens to be this album’s undoing. 18 Months suffers from EDM fatigue. Big, dumb club music isn’t inherently bad, but since it’s become inescapable, it’s begun to trigger the gag reflex the same way pop-punk did at the peak of Blink-182’s influence. This is partially due to overexposure (the musical equivalent of pizza every day) and partially due to the number of sycophants poorly executing the genre to cash in (the musical equivalent of microwave pizza every day). The result is that when the songs on 18 Months inevitably descend into the four-on-the-floor thump Harris favors—scientifically engineered for dancefloor freakouts with the precision of Heisenberg’s blue meth—they usually forfeit any emotional resonance.
That’s a shame because, other than the Flo Rida-level idiocy that is Tinie Tempah’s feature “Drinking From The Bottle,” most of these songs start out with great promise. Harris is a brilliant pop craftsman, able to elicit emotion and adrenaline from many directions, and he recruited a wide range of vocal talents to bring his creations to life, including stars with a foothold in U.S. radio (Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, Ne-Yo, Florence Welch, Kelis) and a few who’ve yet to break outside the UK (Dizzee Rascal, Example, Ayah Marar). With their assistance, he taps into a fairly wide range of moods on 18 Months—the exhilarating freedom of cutting loose from a bad relationship (“Bounce”), the struggle to resist an irresistible longing (“I Need Your Love”), the compulsion to get up and seize the day (“Let’s Go”)—but when the beat drops, it all boils down to giving in to the feeling and getting lost in the moment. In the same way, Harris ably dabbles in dubstep, hip-hop, electro, disco, and dreamy funk, but almost every track eventually congeals into the same automaton thud. In this context, even thrilling singles like “We Found Love” (included here to the album’s benefit) and the Ayah Marar collaboration “Thinking About You” feel cheapened. This album is less a monument to the human experience and more a harbinger of the rise of the machines.