United We Are, the much-anticipated studio album from Hardwell, has generated a sizeable amount of buzz in the lead up to its release, and rightfully so. For the world’s #1 DJ, a debut album is a big deal and is undoubtedly going to be put under the microscope, as is customary with all the big names in the industry these days (see Porter Robinson & Mat Zo). So, was the wait worth it? Has the Dutch producer delivered? Read on to find out.
The fact that Hardwell is the reigning #1 DJ in the world means that he’s also become one of the most sought after EDM producers, especially for artists looking to break into dance music. So, it comes as no surprise that United We Are would feature at least one mainstream vocalist on a more pop-y sounding track. This time around, Jason Derulo makes the cut and he arrives with less auto-tune than his mainstream work, which is a much welcomed change.
Derulo isn’t the only vocalist here, though, as there are quite a few notable names on the disc, including Amba Shepherd, who reunites with the producer on the titular track “United We Are,” (after working together on “Apollo”). The tune is quintessential Hardwell: fat synths, dope bassline and easy to learn lyrics. The same can be said for another collab on the album, “Don’t Stop the Madness,” which features W&W and legendary hip-hop MC Fat Man Scoop. It’s an absolute banger and one of United We Are‘s best.
While the wide range of vocalists show some great variety, the genres that are presented here display some great versatility as well. “Where Is Here Now” with Funkerman and I-Fan gets my personal nod for best track of the album. It’s incredibly house-y and ambient and much different than anything Hardwell has ever produced. It’s great to know that he is capable of making music like this and that he’s not just a one trick pony of Beatport topping big-room bangers. “Young Again,” featuring Chris Jones, falls along those same lines as well, giving us a progressive house tune that’s much calmer than Robbert’s regular stuff.
Another highlight on United We Are comes in the form of “Echo.” When I saw Jonathan Mendelsohn listed as the vocalist, I’ll admit that I skipped to this song first. Jon has made a name for himself recently in the trance circuit, working with everyone from Dash Berlin to Andrew Rayel, so I was curious to see how Hardwell would use him. Though “Echo” doesn’t reveal the true power that is Mendelsohn’s voice, it’s hard to deny someone with a pedigree like his and it definitely gets the honorary mention for best track on the album.
Unfortunately, not every song on United We Are is a winner. “Sally” stands out like a sore thumb, as it’s a poor rock tune with even worse lyrics. It was met with nothing but harsh criticism when it was released as one of the lead singles on the album and after a few listens, it still doesn’t do much for me. It’s a serious misstep on an otherwise solid album and I can’t see it finding too many fans.
Overall, United We Are is hard to put into one box, which is a good sign based on the ever changing landscape of dance music. Though some tracks are a bit too predictable, there are also some hidden gems that are absolutely worthy of a second or third listen. Similar to Avicii’s True, this is an album proves that Hardwell is a really strong producer, in addition to being a great DJ.
While United We Are might prove that Hardwell is a strong producer, it feels a bit disjointed and lacks cohesion. Still, it's a solid effort from one of dance's music best and will likely please fans of the Dutch DJ.