Giving the deluxe version of superstar DJ and producer David Guetta’s new album a spin, it soon becomes clear why previously released promo singles “Bad” and”‘Shot Me Down” are kept apart from the main body of Listen and repackaged as bonus tracks.
Inspired by Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” later covered by Nancy Sinatra and then pushed into peoples’ hearts via Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1 – the Frenchman gives the classic song a new twist. Alongside Skylar Grey, “Shot Me Down” sees the decades-old track enveloped by Guetta’s rampant, pulsating club sounds for a modern, worthwhile remake. Not content with hooking up with Grey again on the darker, primal “Rise,” “Bad” featuring Showtek and Vassy, also races towards the dance floor with its thumping bassline and laser sharp synths.
In short, the handful of cuts stuck onto the end of Listen are more intriguing and daring than the majority of the material found within the standard tracklisting of the album. In fact, they’re virtually opposites.
Right through the main bulk of Listen, Guetta’s production is designed to please and bring people together. The arrangements sound inclusive and accessible, but the 47-year old repeatedly reaches this state by sacrificing any mystery and complexity within his music. That being said, there are several tracks on here that thankfully buck this trend.
Hit single “Lovers On The Sun” trades the LP’s pleasantries for enigmatic simmering verses and brash standoff guitars. Sam Martin’s belting vocals strike upon first play and go hand in hand with the tune’s synthhook, without over-relying on it.
“Dangerous,” though not as thrilling as “Lovers On The Sun,” brings the best out of Martin’s elastic, edgy vocal. Featuring potent bass sounds, as well as entrancing synth-string work, Martin’s performance gives the tune direction, intention and a piercing quality.
With its golden hook and dubby production flourishes, Ms. Dynamite plays her part well on “No Money, No Love.” The tune becomes more irresistible after repeated plays and would thrive on radio. Like “Lovers On the Sun,” “No Money, No Love” contains two hooks and out of all the tracks on Listen that are structured this way – and there are a few – “No Money, No Love” is one of the better examples.
Emeli Sandé contributes tenderly to “What I Did For Love,” a cut that elevates itself with genuine heartfelt, soulful elements. The record never colours too far outside the lines, but still has an anthemic quality to it, trumping later tracks on the album that attempt to impact in the same way.
With the help of John Legend, the LP’s title song delivers many melodic highlights. That being said, the tune’s wholehearted but sugary-sweet ‘let’s all come together’ tone gently suffocates, taking the sting out of the song’s electronic elements.
Nicki Minaj reunites with Guetta for another hook-up in the form of “Hey Mama.” The rapper asserts her sass confidently, just like she did on previous Guetta collabs “Turn Me On” and “Where Them Girls At.” Yet, this cut is never hooky enough to be essential and works mostly as a temporary pop fix.
Making two appearances on Listen, singer/songwriter Sia contributes her talents to tracks “The Whisperer” and “Bang My Head.” Layered piano ballad “The Whisperer” is unexpected for Guetta, falling more in line with the back catalogue of the Australian vocalist. Nevertheless, the song soars thanks to an impassioned, expansive chorus. With a pinch of the same magic that helped Guetta’s 2011 hit “Titanium” ascend the charts, “Bang My Head” commands attention with its boundless hook. Occasionally, the song can sound a little too restless, but it remains one of the project’s quirky and more interesting efforts.
New York singer/songwriter Bebe Rexha gives a three-dimensional performance on “Yesterday.” With Guetta’s production vividly peaking on the tune’s hook, the song effortlessly generates a passing interest. Meanwhile, Norwegian singer/songwriting duo Nico and Vinz look to recreate the appeal of their hit international hit single “Am I Wrong?” on “Lift Me Up.” The cut doesn’t truly elevate from where it starts though, over-relying on a vacant synth hook to create impact – however, the inclusion of South African male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an interesting touch.
Ryan Tedder commits sincerely to the throwaway “S.T.O.P” and bringing the reggae flavour from their debut smash hit “Rude” into the mix, Canadian band MAGIC! provide boisterous vocals for “Sun Goes Down.” The spirited, carnival-licked dance tune has no real staying power, but it’s hard to ignore the track’s celebratory bounce.
The LP’s ability to move the world’s feet will ensure that it does some damage in the charts. It seems that everyone is invited here, as Listen brings together artists as diverse as Birdy, The Script and Afrojack – even The Dream has a writing credit on the record. Disappointingly though, in an effort to generate universal appeal, enterprising house tracks like “Lovers On The Sun” become a rarity on Listen and ultimately, the disc is a mostly mediocre effort from the talented French producer.