Nothing But the Beat, despite its occasional glimmer of creativity, is in many ways a showcase of everything that is bad about pop music in 2011: derivative, novelty, shallow, rushed and thoroughly uninteresting.
It would be a safe bet to say the David Guetta is one of the commercial pop world’s most sought after producers, perhaps even overtaking the success of the Lady Gaga and Nicole Scherzinger favoured RedOne. It’s quite possible this is because Guetta has incorporated a great deal of that hugely successful producer’s sounds into his own, whilst never straying too far from his initial Eurodance roots. However, there’s no denying that Guetta’s worldwide success is largely down to his move from a European sound to one distinctly more tailored for the U.S. market. And that includes his choice of guest artists.
Kelly Rowland’s regal appearance on the euphoric “When Love Takes Over” catapulted Guetta to his first UK No. 1 in 2009, and gave him his highest charting single in the U.S. But then when Akon sauntered onto the significantly inferior follow up single “Sexy Bitch”, an uncreative novelty urban house track, not only did it give Guetta his second UK No. 1, it also gave him a Top Five hit in the U.S. It’s clear that Guetta has dollar signs in his eyes, because his next big single, “Gettin’ Over You”, strayed into even more derivative territory, essentially rewriting previous European success “Love Is Gone”, but chucking U.S. successes Fergie and LMFAO into the mix, making the track not so much a musical project, more a money-making one. And now a year on, we come to Nothing But the Beat, which combines the euphoric, the novelty and the derivative, into a collection of tried and tested hit-making techniques.
Anyone not already a fan of David Guetta will certainly not be swayed here, and indeed anyone not a fan of commercial dance music will almost certainly loathe this record. Lead single “Where Them Girls At” could quite possibly be one of the worst dancepop songs of the year, a clumsily mashed together collaboration with an uninteresting but loud, industrial sized backing track. Flo Rida is as wooden and cringe-worthy as ever, and Nicki Minaj’s once exhilarating schizophrenic rants are now predictable and irritating, although her melodic adlibbing towards the end of the track at least provides a wry laugh.
The rest of the album doesn’t dip that low again. Trust success hungry Guetta to lead with the biggest novelty track of his career, but later on it becomes clear when Guetta is at his most musically creative. The tracks featuring big female voices encourages Guetta to up his game to give them room to shine, whilst tracks featuring urban artists seem to make Guetta lazy, resorting to tired, familiar dance sounds.
His version of Snoop Dogg’s “Wet”, entitled “Sweat” for the politically correct mainstream, sounds like it was put together in five minutes, its main hook being taken from Meck’s “Feels Like Home”, and the rest revolving around a tired three-chord rotation. If it weren’t for the Meck sample, the track would be a skeleton of a song. Elsewhere, “Nothing Really Matters” featuring will.i.am, could be any track from the Peas’ last record, and “Little Bad Girl”, featuring Taio Cruz and Ludacris, is “Sexy Bitch” rewritten unashamedly.
At the other end of the scale, the four tracks here to be led by women show a more humble and melodically driven side to Guetta’s producing. “Turn Me On”, featuring Nicki Minaj, showcases a suspiciously melodic performance by Minaj, with massive hooks that somehow let her make the transition from freak to diva, whilst the even huger melodic peaks of “Night of Your Life” and “Titanium”, featuring the big belting voices of Jennifer Hudson and Sia respectively, manage to (almost) recall the power of his excellent Kelly Rowland collaborations: “When Love Takes Over” and “Commander”. It’s just a shame Rowland doesn’t make a single appearance here, as it’s clear her and Guetta have a certain chemistry and magic that is entirely missing from Nothing But the Beat. Album highlight “Repeat”, featuring Jessie J, is the nearest thing to reaching those heights, with dance rock synth guitars and chugging bass and beats propelling Jessie’s fist-in-the-air vocal to its rightful place on the dance floor, rather than the tepid faux-soul of her own material. Another sparkling collaboration waiting to happen?
Nothing But the Beat is in many ways a showcase of everything that is bad about pop music in 2011: derivative, novelty, shallow, rushed, Auto-Tuned to the ends of the earth and thoroughly uninteresting. However, also like pop music in 2011, it shows the occasional glimmer of creativity and hope that keeps us listening, and hoping. Still, there has been significantly less effort put into this record than Guetta is capable of. That is assuming, of course, if after all the glitz and glamour of the U.S., he is still capable of more than this. We can only hope.