Release Date: Nov 24, 2014
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, House, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Progressive House, EDM, Left-Field Pop
Strange that right after house and EDM broke, many of its leading names looked outside the genre for inspiration, including David Guetta, who goes singer/songwriter with his 2014 effort Listen. That's singer/songwriter in the vocation sense, not the '70s sense, as big names like John Legend sway the superstar producer toward their own style, which in the case of Legend's title track, "Listen," is elegant and exquisite R&B. In the case of Nicki Minaj, it's sassy and sexy dancefloor business as "Hey Mama" shines with Afrojack on the assist; then there's Emili Sande invoking the spirit of Nina Simone on the moving "What I Did for Love," or Sia going stark on the excellent "The Whisperer.
For David Guetta's sixth album, the Parisian pop-house producer lightens up on the hip-hop and veers toward a highly Grammy-friendly roster of guests including Sia, Nicki Minaj, Ryan Tedder and, on the Coldplay-at-the-rave title cut, John Legend. The songwriting remains basic, as always, and vocalist Sam Martin blandly belts "Lovers on the Sun" and the club hit "Dangerous." But the album sounds consistently great, achieving 3D spatiality that works for earbuds and stadiums alike. Sometimes the songwriting even catches up, as on "Lift Me Up," which teams Nord-poppers Nico and Vinz with Ladysmith Black Mambazo – and, of course, a big synth drop.
For his sixth album, the mega-popular French DJ-producer has changed his working methods, building tracks acoustically rather than adding vocals to a beat. It’s not easy to gauge the difference: Listen still delivers the familiar crowd-pleasing builds and drops, the formulaic song structures. Some credit is due for bringing together such a diverse bunch of guest vocalists, from the Script to John Legend to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but rarely do they force Guetta out of his comfort zone.
For true believers in the power of electronic dance music, there won't be a more dispiriting hour in 2014 than time spent listening to David Guetta's new album. For 13 numbingly repetitive, guest-heavy tracks, Listen sends a dead-eyed love letter to the hordes of newbie EDM “fans” who clog every oversold (and understaffed) festival. Not only is none of this fresh, its fast-food vacuity is presented as proud branding.
It’s not hard to view “Listen” as uberproducer David Guetta’s vision for re-creating pop radio in his own image. The array of collaborators he’s enlisted as his mouthpieces include established hitmakers (John Legend, Sia, Nicki Minaj), a handful of European stars (Emeli Sandé, the Script’s Danny O’Donoghue), one legendary vocal group seemingly brought aboard purely for the prestige factor (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who don’t contribute in any meaningful way to “Lift Me Up”), and some unknowns who, if Guetta has anything to say about it, won’t be unknown for long. Sandé’s impassioned clarity works well on “What I Did for Love,” while “Goodbye Friend” may be the best thing O’Donoghue has ever done, with his earnestness a good match for Guetta’s signature throb.