At long last, we finally have Motion, the fourth studio album from EDM sensation Calvin Harris. To say that it shows little effort on the DJ’s part to innovate and challenge himself would be an understatement, for the music here is as close to Calvin’s comfort zone as it can get. From the hard hitting “Overdrive” to the cute and catchy “Outside,” almost every track on the disc is representative of an artist playing things very safe and sticking to the motto, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Although, when you’re arguably the biggest DJ in the world, is there anything wrong with that?
That’s likely going to be the biggest debate surrounding Motion. Is it alright for Calvin to play it safe if he’s able to produce chart-topping hits that send festivalgoers into a frenzy, or should he be pushing boundaries and challenging himself to innovate and move forward as an artist? Let’s take a look at the album and see if we can answer that question.
As one would expect, Motion is full of radio hits and rarely heads into uncharted territory. The lyrics, while strong at points, all more or less talk about the same thing and encompass the same themes, and the beats, builds and drops often lack in creativity. That being said, it’s hard to deny that there are some solid tracks on this album that are a lot of fun to both listen and dance to. There may not be anything that reaches quite the same heights as songs like “We Found Love” or “Sweet Nothing” (two standouts from Harris’ last album, 18 Months), but with music like “Pray To God,” “Blame” and even the iconic “Summer,” Motion is hardly a dull listen.
The other thing that works about Motion is that there is a definite variety of music here. Whereas 18 Months was a lot more pop focused, Harris casts a wider net on genres this time around, giving us festival bangers, a ballad, trippy electro-funk beats and even some rap. Not every song hits its mark, but the wide range of musical sounds on display here is definitely appreciated.
Album opener “Faith” is still one of my favorites, kicking things off in grand fashion with a large sound and strong vocals. It’s got those familiar builds and drops, as well as the signature Harris synth hook, but it’s a catchy and easy listen that welcomes you into Motion and leaves you feeling good.
The next two tracks continue on with the momentum, as we get “Blame” and “Under Control,” both of which have seen huge success as singles since their release. The first is the definite mainstream crossover here, already receiving ample radio play. John Newman is on vocal duty for the track and is arguably the best part about it (aside from a great drop). The punchy synths continue an album trend of synth hooks that while catchy, all sound a bit too similar, but thankfully, Newman’s vocals elevate “Blame” significantly, giving it a bit of extra oomph and providing a track that is arguably one of the best on the album.
“Under Control,” while a dream collaboration on paper (Alesso and Hurts feature on the song), is a bit cookie cutter as far as EDM goes. Still, the impact that this club anthem has on kickstarting a crowd or a set is undeniable. It might be easy to mistake it for something from David Guetta’s library (or any other mainstream DJ for that matter), but the euphoric sounds and Hurts’ vocals should keep this one spinning for a while.
Next I want to talk about “Slow Acid,” which is Harris’ attempt to distance himself from his typical club anthems. With its bouncy electro sound and lack of lyrics, the edgy track is the clear outlier on the album, sounding extremely different than anything else here and not really fitting in. Still, Calvin’s attempt to head in a different direction, while displaying his electro funk side, is commendable. It doesn’t work for me, personally, but I’m sure there will be people who really dig the DJ’s attempt to provide something a bit darker and completely non-mainstream.
It doesn’t take long for Harris to get back to what he knows, as “Open Wide” is simply a vocal mix to the DJ’s previously released C.U.B.A. If you liked that track, then I suppose you’ll dig this version as well. However, with a very generic beat and Big Sean’s brainless lyrics, there’s not much to like about it.
“Outside” is one track that will certainly get a lot of attention, as it sees Harris and Ellie Goulding trying to re-capture the magic that they discovered on “I Need Your Love,” except it’s not quite as effective. Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely another one of my favorite tracks on the album, and I’m a big fan of the string work, large chords and Goulding’s angelic vocals, but it never impresses as much as the duo’s previous collaboration did.
“It Was You,” “Overdrive” and “Burnin” are the festival bangers of the album, and with their stabbing synths and huge beats, they’re a bit tough to listen to at home. There’s also the fact that none of them are terribly original. “Overdrive” is interchangeable for any other banger that’s been released in the past couple of years and “Burnin,” while it benefits from R3HAB’s energy, is far too generic and bland to leave much of a mark. “It Was You” fares slightly better, but it’s hardly a memorable track.
And then, of course, there’s the iconic “Summer,” which doesn’t really need an introduction at this point. Infectious and played to death, most listeners will probably skip over this once since they’ve already heard it so many times. Still, with Calvin providing the raspy vocals and the energetic and vibrant sounds pulsating throughout the track, the synth anthem is just as catchy as it was the first time you heard it. There may not be a whole lot of depth to it, but it’s a fun song that brings a smile to my face and recalls good memories every time I hear it.
Moving on, we have “Ecstasy,” which slows things right down for a ballad with some beautiful vocals provided by Hurts. I can’t see this one getting much attention from Harris’ followers, since it’s a bit hard to move to, but it’s a nice break from the DJ’s usual sound and gives us a moment to catch our breath.
“Pray To God” is a particularly strong song and the kind of collaboration that Harris should be doing more of. Featuring HAIM, this is going to be the album’s under the radar hit, mark my words. The 90’s rock vibe mixed with the HAIM sisters’ pop-y vocals help to turn “Pray To God” from just another formulaic Harris track into something memorable. Sure, the DJ’s synth beats are still there, but this one definitely stands out and has more of a fresh feel than almost anything else on the disc.
There are several more tracks on Motion, but none of them do anything to grab your attention and end up feeling more like filler than anything else. “Together” somehow manages to waste what could have been an excellent collaboration with Gwen Stefani, while “Love Now,” despite its soulful vocals, is a mediocre song at best. “Dollar Signs” closes things out on a slightly underwhelming note and a lot of people have been commenting that it feels like it was written for Rihanna. Perhaps it would have packed more of a punch had she sung it instead?
Though many critics are dismissing it as such, Motion is not a complete write-off. It’s just more of Calvin Harris being Calvin Harris. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, it depends on who you ask. But for this writer, while it’s a bit frustrating that the DJ is so reluctant to try anything new (as he truly is a talented producer), I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find something to like in at least the majority of the tracks here.
Motion won’t turn any heads, that’s for sure. It won’t have anyone singing its praises, either. But for a Calvin Harris album, it hits a lot of the right notes and delivers exactly what we expected.
And you know what? That’s far from the worst thing in the world.
Motion is Calvin Harris playing it as safe as he possibly can, giving us an album that rarely heads into new territory and doesn't take many risks. But, with some solid tracks like Faith, Blame and Pray To God, Motion goes down smoothly and is ultimately, a fun and harmless album that should have no problem finding success.