"18 Months"For his third album, 18 Months, producer/DJ/singer Calvin Harris made a concerted effort to step away from the vocal booth in order to focus primarily on production. He makes a few cameos here and there, but for the most part he leans heavily on stars like Ne-Yo, Dizzee Rascal, and Rihanna (among others) to pick up the lyrical slack. The departure from his usual M.O. leads to a disjointed effort, and the laundry list of pop stars he’s commissioned does little to salvage the lyrical integrity of the album. Still though, despite the disconnect, a handful of guests makes their presence known for some semi-insightful, if not downright silly wordplay:

We’ll Be Coming Back feat. Example

18 MonthsWe’ll Be Coming Back” begins simply enough with a loose guitar riff followed by a middle-of-the-road melodic hook, all of which equate to a safe and uninspired final product. Example provides a bit of lift, but his voice seems uninterested and almost burdened by the responsibility of carrying this song. It’s got a summer time, top-down sort of feel to it, but seeing how summer is over, well, yeah: [LISTEN]

You can see it from afar
We were riding that wave
Blinded by the lights, and it’s something not great

 ‘I Need Your Love feat. Ellie Goulding

18 MonthsSteeped heavily in low-fi, 8-bit glitches and blips, “I Need Your Love,” pulses forward, playing thematically with the innocence of love. Goulding’s voice bounces nicely to Harris’ beat, and the two seem to create some chemistry. The juvenile nature of the song, however, exemplifies how Harris refuses to evolve on his own, opting instead to let current trends dictate his creative growth: [LISTEN]

I need your love
I need your time
When everything’s wrong, you make it right

We Found Love feat. Rihanna

18 MonthsRihanna expresses a certain level of vulnerability that makes her tailor made for the pop limelight. Here she croons over a simple beat from Harris, making for a perfect anthem for young teenage drama. Lyrically it’s a bit perplexing, as the content—and accompanying music video – suggests that she’s still hung up on Chris Brown. Which within itself is an awkward story to rehash. The drama is concrete, no illusions about that. But Harris definitely takes a backseat here, making things more about Rihanna and her work than Harris and his: [LISTEN]

Shine a light through an open door
Love and live I will divide
Turn away cause I need you more

Sweet Nothing feat. Florence Welch

18 MonthsOne of the few songs on the album where a fine balance is met between collaborators. Florence Welch’s hauntingly beautiful voice glides over a mash of synthesizers, which culminates halfway through with a desperate plea for love. Harris makes his voice known with subtle buildups and understated crescendos, and although this album is full of safe bets, this one does provide a bit of hope for future efforts: [LISTEN]

I’m living on such sweet nothing
And it’s hard to learn
And it’s hard to love

 ‘Here 2 China feat. Dillon Francis & Dizzee Rascal

18 MonthsCalvin Harris jumps genres with this one, and commissions Dizzee Rascal to be his official tour guide. To some extent it works, but only because Harris backs off completely. The gritty industrial beat allows for Rascal to take charge with his slack-jawed, party raps. But the jarring song’s placement within the soft nature of the album throws any trace of cohesion completely out the door: [LISTEN]

Blazing the green to get me higher, now I’m inspired
Puttin’ the pressure on the back tire, making a hasty getaway
Havin’ a better day than yesterday