Why Calvin Harris’s ‘Motion’ is the Most Unapologetic Album Of The Year
If you’re an EDM artist releasing a full length album these days, you’re trying — maybe even too hard — to come off as anything besides EDM. Oh, you’re just so f*cking trendy, you must sound like Disclosure and be so “underground” that you’re entitled to playing main stages at festivals. Right? Or did one of the biggest superstars in the game just prove that ploy idiotic? Yeah, that sounds more like it.
Now I’m not calling anyone out anyone in specific and won’t be pointing fingers. In fact, there are a handful of artists who distance themselves from EDM and do so successfully. I’m looking at you, Dirty South. But something just happened that should be making everyone else scratch their heads.
Calvin Harris swooped in and released his first studio album since the Michael Jackson-record breaking 18 Months. It’s Motion, and it’s even more EDM than it’s predecessor — and much less radio-friendly. Where it lacks in number one hits and commercial gems that comprised over 50% of the former, Motion fills up with two distinct personas: on one hand there are electronic productions interesting enough to keep in a warm rotation thanks to grade-A songwriting and well-selected vocalists, paired with straight up big room (yeah, I said big room) tracks in collaboration with artists whose reputations are far from Calvin’s pop go-to’s. More on these shortly.
Now I’m not saying this album is all golden. “Summer” is as safe as safe lead singles get and “Under Control” — albeit a well-done dream collaboration — is only a few notches higher on the unique scale. Both early singles aren’t, and probably couldn’t, be sequels to “We Found Love” or “Feel So Close” but their marketability and wide scale success are undeniable.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way before going any further: “Slow Acid” is, for lack of an eloquent term, dope sh*t. The record ironically strings the strongest parallel to his previous album, a move similar to including “Motion” on 18 Months. Both tracks come out of left field — I visualize these as a wink and a nod as if to say; “I’m Calvin f*cking Harris, and that’s going on the album.”
On the EDM side of the coin, Calvin has focused listeners pressing fast forward but festival-goers grasping for early-bird Ultra passes on “Overdrive” with Ummet Ozcan, “It Was You” with Firebeatz, and “Burnin” with R3hab. Glad that’s over with. Now for the fun…
The opening track “Faith” has that grand-scale feel but won’t quite blow out your ear drums with overcompressed kicks. Thanks to some serious songsmanship it manages to come across as soothing despite its festival leanings. Two tracks away, “Blame” uses the same formula, but takes quality up a notch — or at least enough notches to dub it a mainstream crossover. “Love Now” follows and brings things back to a comfortable enough zone to groove, with both production and vocals from All About She — whom you’ll likely meet for the first time right here and fall in love with immediately.
What happens when Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding get together historically? Very nice things. “Outside” is “I Need Your Love pt. 2” and that’s all there is to know. Clap Clap.
Hurts makes his second vocal appearance on the album for “Ecstacy,” Motion’s smoothest and easiest listen where the singer shines much greater this time around atop a slower tempo. Thumbs up. The dark horse is sure to be “Pray To God,” as it sounds a lot like a middle-ground for vibes after first listen. Two listens later, it will grow on you; four, and you’ll love it; make it five and it’ll be your favorite. This is hands down the best songwriting effort from Calvin Harris this year. (I’m excusing any work done for Rita Ora.)
The closing moments of the album get a bit controversial, but even more so exciting. Big Sean appears on “Open Wide,” only dropping two verses (that I’m waiting for Kanye West to rant about) over Calvin’s recent solo hit “CUBA.” Is the original instrumental better? Probably. Is the addition of Big Sean harming anyone? Absolutely not. He raps, “I love that ass, but I hate that f*cking outfit,” and that’s all that matters.
Next guest: Gwen Stefani. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Gwen Stefani is going to make a remarkable solo comeback and be Queen of 2015. She appears on “Together,” an EDM track at heart instrumentally, but the punk princess turned pop phenom sings her f*cking heart out and makes this track really shine. Throw it at the top of your it’s-getting-cold-out-but-I-want-to-feel-happy-anyway playlist and put it on repeat.
Motion closes similarly with its Tinashe collaboration. Here the drops are more thunderous but its valleys from the crooner are softer and more relieving. It’s best of both (or all) worlds appeal makes for a sensible conclusion, just not one that ties a bow to slap on the sexy cover art of a physical copy.
I’m not sure this is what he meant to say… but what Calvin Harris is saying with Motion is “stop trying to be so cool, because you’ll never be as cool as me.” And he owes zero apologies.