Hardwell’s ‘United We Are’ treads in familiar territory
It was only a matter of time before the twice-crowned DJ Mag champion stepped up to the album format.
Peers before him have run at the platform with at least one or two radio hits under their belts, while others approached with a dramatic agenda for full blown concept albums.
For the Revealed Recording’s head honcho, turned Holland’s biggest EDM export, the path was safe and calculated. True to his penchant for hype and expert social teasing, the trail to Unite We Are was definitely felt, but could not be compared to the genre’s more recent landmark albums.
After a succession of Beatport hits and similar ventures from his direct competition, it was certainly time for Hardwell to take a stab at the fabled artist album. If he really stands for something that other sects of the dance music industry object to, United We Are was a statement of ‘couldn’t care less’ from an artist whose carefully developed agenda still seems to be working — even if the album format feels a bit forced.
For an album that many expected to be decidedly forgettable, United We Are gets a lot of things right. As an introductory track, “Eclipse” fits the boot perfectly, building on the Dutchman’s big room penchant in a confident yet climactic manner. There are no collaborators and no crossover remarks, just a straight stab at the sound that — love him or hate him — Hardwell has contributed to significantly. From here however, United We Are noticeably struggles to find its flow. The Derulo collab “Follow Me” pitches A-list vocal hallmarks without the significant radio tipping point, “Sally” hits a cringe-worthy rock crossover moment that could have turned heads two years ago but falls flat in 2015, whilst the initial single “Young Again” builds on the ethos of dance music built for bigger spaces – not headphones.
On the flip side, “Let Me Be Your Home” alongside familiar collaborator Bright Lights sets a great precedent for vocal big room with festival ambitions reassuringly high. Likewise, the inclusion of Joey Dale, Dallas K and W&W stays true to both Hardwell and Revealed’s on-going attempt to give exciting talent the best possible landing pad. The action is commendable, but the album format seems just a little too crowded a place for these fresh talents to be effectively spotlighted – at 14 tracks deep they get lost in the shuffle. The album truly shines with the inclusion of some of dance music’s finer vocal talents on the beat. Andreas Moe, Amba Shepherd and Jonathan Mendelsohn truly flourish amid United We Are’s vocal offerings.
For those who relished in the likes of True, Settle, Worlds, and even Guetta’s latest, the LP does not act as an empowering step forward for full-length dance offerings. It does, however, pinpoint the energy and curiosity that has rightfully earned Hardwell the crown as Holland’s big room poster boy.
If one thing is for certain it’s that Hardwell is unapologetic in owning the sound. And rightly so, for whilst United We Are is not a game-changing album for the greater scope of his career or the EDM zeitgeist, it is a logical progression for an artist whose legacy remains in anthemic singles and an unparalleled live presence.