David Guetta is the closest artist (not named Taylor Swift) that pop music has to a sure thing today. His new album "Listen" (Atlantic) shows why.
Essentially, "Listen" sounds like pop radio. In fact, Guetta pulls together so many of radio's top voices and lets them do their thing that the album sounds less like an album and more like the latest "Now That's What I Call Music!" hits compilation.
One moment it's Nico and Vinz, the "Am I Wrong" singers. The next it's "Rude" boys Magic! They're pleasant enough on "Lift Me Up" and "Sun Goes Down," respectively, but it all feels so interchangeable. It's what happens when Guetta's blank-canvas-plus-four-on-the-floor-beat overwhelms his collaborators.
It's when the contributions are more equal that "Listen" really starts to shine. "What I Did for Love," featuring Emeli Sande, alternates between a spare backdrop that allows her warm vocals to soar and a piano-driven house riff that shows how Guetta has filled dance floors for decades.
Sia turns "Bang My Head" into a dance anthem that is somehow catchier and more inspirational than "Titanium," as she declares, "You will rise above it all." Guetta layers synth upon synth to match Sia's lyrical power, with the pounding beat offering even more fist-pumping defiance.
On "Hey Mama," Nicki Minaj delivers her most undeniable hit since "Super Bass," riding the reggae-influenced beat while she trumpets women's triumphs.
Throughout "Listen," Guetta shows his most impressive talent is helping collaborators do their best. Everybody wins.
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THE GRADE B