Out of all the electronic producers in the world, David Guetta is possibly one of the most prolific. It may have taken him four studio albums to get to that point, but when he released One Love in 2009, his career exploded. “When Love Takes Over” catapulted to the top of the charts and Guetta quickly became one of the most recognizable names in dance music. His unique blend of progressive house and electro was ahead of its time in 2009, but was quickly adopted by the majority of producers trying to make a name for themselves. It is for this reason that Guetta decided to step away from the traditional EDM sound on his new album Listen.
However, there was an ulterior motive to this change in sound. The album deals with Guetta’s divorce from his wife 22 years. Previously, he would make albums that dealt with happiness and partying as this was his life at the times. Listen is a much a more personal album in comparison to previous releases. Instead of chasing the euphoric beats, buildups, and drops of traditional EDM, he decided to strip everything away and build the tracks around the guitars, piano, and vocals instead of creating the beat and then producing the rest of the track according to that beat.
This change in the writing process has had tremendous impact on the overall sound of the album. For once, with commercial EDM, you can hear the emotion and soul that has been invested into each song. For evidence of this, you just have to listen to the opening song “Dangerous”. The vocals from Sam Martin are featured on this and swoop in behind an intricate combination of piano melody, bass riffs, and dash of synth and drum samples. It’s a departure from the usual sweeping buildups followed by a massive drop, and a departure that Guetta frequents on this album.
Rather than focusing on another one of the singles off of this album, as you’ve all probably heard them several times now, allow me to divert your attention to a song that holds a special place in my heart. The song is “Lift Me Up”, and it may be a song about his divorce, but at the same time it reflects a greater message than that. The presence of Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the song alongside Nico & Vinz makes my South African soul swell with pride. It is their presence that catapults the song into a greater meaning, especially for a child who was born in post-Apartheid South Africa and is aware of how people have forgotten what the struggle for freedom was like. Subconsciously, “Lift Me Up” is a desperate plea for people to forget their differences and to accept that there was great struggle, but the true heroes are those who can rise above this struggle and make a difference. If that difference means letting go of old wounds and embracing a new future, then so be it. This message is universal though, and it is helped that the track has a major dance element to it that drives the emotional impact of the song home.
A familiar time crops up on all the collaborations on Listen. What would a David Guetta album be without Sia featuring on a song…or two? The first song, “Bang”, is a typical Guetta/Sia collaboration. Her powerful vocals sweep over a synthetic piano piece before opening into a series of progressive house drops. It is a formula that Guetta has been using for years now, but somehow it seems different on Listen. There is less focus on incorporating a massive bass drop that would fit in perfectly to an Ultra set-list, but he rather moulds the production aspects around Sia’s vocals. The song changes in accordance to the changes in pitch and tone of her voice and it sounds fantastic. Their second collaboration closes the album; “The Whisperer” is probably the single, most beautiful and moving song on the album. A haunting piano melody wraps itself around Sia’s vocals with occasional violin pieces and electronically-manipulated guitar riffs swooping across the song.
Listen is, without a doubt, Guetta’s best album to date. He poured his heart and soul into the album, and it shows through on each song. He has managed to create a sonic masterpiece worthy of the gods, or at least the modern equivalent of a sonic masterpiece. Anybody that can make Nicki Minaj sound good is worthy of an incredibly large amount of praise.