Album review: David Guetta’s ‘Listen’ ebbs and flows with its guest vocalists

Annie Zaleski

Three stars

David Guetta Listen

Besides Calvin Harris, few modern EDM stars have found such massive crossover success on the singles charts as French DJ/producer David Guetta. The secret to this feat is twofold. First, he approaches his artist albums like pop records, meaning that the focus is more on melodies, hooks and structure rather than on pacing or tricks meant to rile up a crowd. Second, Guetta is smart about his vocal allies; he aligns himself with colorful personalities that add distinct character to his music, whether it’s Sia (“Titanium”) or Nicki Minaj (“Turn Me On”).

Although his latest LP, Listen, features plenty of color—shivering strings and evocative piano are common alongside the usual tinny techno and house flourishes—the record lives and dies by its guest vocalists. The combination of Nico & Vinz and Ladysmith Black Mambazo adds a soulful, optimistic edge to “Lift Me Up.” Ms. Dynamite and Elliphant amplify the laid-back reggae vibe of “No Money No Love.” John Legend is his usual regal self on the title track. And Minaj is again a highlight, adding reserved (for her) sass to the dancehall-inflected “Hey Mama.”

Listen is less compelling with more generic voices at the helm, such as Sam Martin—“Dangerous” and its funky disco bassline comes across as Daft Punk lite, while “Lovers on the Sun” is cheesy Eurohouse with faux-Western whistling. While it’s breaking no new ground—and lacks the attention-grabbing hit singles of previous records—Listen is an eminently likeable, perfectly pleasant collection of danceable pop.

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