Love for the '80s and a cheeky attitude towards self-promotion aren't enough to make these party tunes anything better than mediocre.
As if in knowing complementarity to Kanye West's newly-initiated stripy sunglasses thing, Calvin Harris is setting himself up as Honeycomb Sunglass Man – an indication that, for him, music and persona are inseparable. Look, there's nothing necessarily wrong with self-promotion, especially in dance music. Especially when you've called your debut album I Created Disco. But the sense you get from his whole "Only I know how to create a party so let's do it together, after me, on one night" thing is just this – that the primary goal is publicity. By way of background, Harris posted a message on his MySpace page a few weeks ago instructing all the kids in Britain to hold house parties at their parents' houses on the same day – just to set a record. The invitation went: "Anything goes - big or small - from a neon nu-rave extravaganza to a boozy barbecue to a girls' night in."
Needless to say, the "Calvin Harris party" furore has only increased awareness and interest in the guy's music – and the whole thing's been supported by Columbia, his record company. Harris recorded a YouTube video in response to parents' groups who came out against the idea, but the whole thing seems a promotional tool for the artist's latest single, "Merry Making at My Place". The track's been gathering momentum. Sure, the track's LCD Soundsystem lite, but it sets a mood effectively enough: the state's hedonism, the modus operandi a pretty piano loop and prominent bassline already played out by Mylo and Tiga. So here you go, bored teens: this year's Mylo, just not as exciting.
Is disco the new electro? Harris might bet on it, but his music protests: still kicking with the straight 4/4 beats of radio-friendly dance music, it strains with the hard-edged synths of classic chart-oriented electroclash. At least the guy's got a strategy worked out – at just 23, the attitude's complete hedonism. You can tell a lot about a producer by the tracks they choose to remix. Though Harris is fairly new to the game, his takes on Jamiroquai, Groove Armada, and even All Saints reveal an orientation with the decidedly mainstream.
So we get songs about girls (of course), the '80s (which Harris must be too young to really remember), and neon, delivered with the same frothy exuberance. "The Girls" is a simple list of the different types of girls – black, blonde, brunette, etc – that Harris purportedly "gets", but it's neither sexy nor catchy, just kind of sordid. The song has subsequently been re-imagined by Dragonette as "The Boys" and turns out much edgier and more successful. Better is "Acceptable in the 80s", its huge, crashing cymbals and radio-house beat effectively propelling the catchy chorus forward. But it's the title track that shows perhaps the greatest potential – you can imagine "I Created Disco", in an extended mix, causing quite a stir on the dancefloor.
But overall I Created Disco is just a pretty confection, good for transient enjoyment at best. The sound quality and engineering on the record are top notch – drum beats ping from the front of the speakers, synthy effects boom from earphone to earphone – but it's hardly enough. It's fine to have "love for you, if you were born in the 80s" (hey, that includes me), but this fake electroclash sound won't be in fashion forever, and Harris' larrikin attitude towards self-promotion will be quickly forgotten along with his at best mediocre party tunes.