CALVIN HARRIS: 18 Months
Columbia, 50 minutes
Singles from Calvin Harris’s underrated debut I Created Disco (2007) featured the Scottish DJ front-and-centre: the inventory-taking house party jam “Merrymaking at My Place,” “The Girls” and “Acceptable in the ‘80s” were fun tunes, presenting Harris as a recognizable, if somewhat block-headed, musical personality. The album’s successor Ready for the Weekend (2009) was more (or less) of the same.
Now, here’s 18 Months, in which Harris retreats back from the mic to let a litany of pop idols do the work. That’s not to diminish his part in the project — crafting the superficially simple tracks behind chart hits is harder than it seems. Most of 18 months is charming pop fluff, like a nightclub-meets-Nintendo cut with Kelis (“Bounce”) and the U.K. hit “Sweet Nothing,” a relatively down-to-earth turn for Florence Welch.
And then there’s “We Found Love,” an already-ancient monster hit for featured artist Rihanna. Its inclusion here is redundant at best, at worst an appeal to people who still inexplicably buy full albums to get the few songs that actually want. Harris deserves credit for creating such a popular song, but slapping it onto an album more than a year after the fact isn’t the way to get it.
TOBY KEITH: Hope on the Rocks
Show Dog-Universal Music, 32 minutes
Sometimes its good to see how the other half lives. Mainstream country music is a window into the thought processes of Red State middle Americans, whose fear of intellectualism and pride in tradition are displayed in the albums they buy. Most of it seems almost exclusively made for them, but as with every genre there’s always something for outsiders. For me, Toby Keith has offered that entry point.
He’s released an album almost every year since 1993, and not all of them are worth your time. But a few, like his latest Hope on the Rocks, have genuine crossover appeal.
The level of depth here is surprising. Keith works, as usual, with Tulsa songwriter Bobby Pinson, dropping songs with very Toby Keith-ian titles like “I Like Girls That Drink Beer” and “Cold Beer Country.” But there’s also the title track, a Springsteen-esque rock ballad about some very lost souls. Devoid of cheap sentiment, it’s a strong step forward for an artist whose career highlights — “I Wanna Talk About Me,” “Red Solo Cup” — were notable for their broad sense of humour. Keith has always been a clever songwriter, now he's an apparently intelligent one, too.