An architect as well as a beneficiary of the mainstream EDM boom, Calvin Harris has spent much of this year dominating music festivals around the world, including Coachella, where he dramatically outdrew higher-billed rock bands like Muse and Arcade Fire. So you can understand why the Scottish DJ's fourth studio album is full of muscled electro-house anthems that seem designed to be blasted across crowded polo fields throughout 2015. (Spoiler alert: They will be.)
In "Blame" the English singer John Newman works his throaty growl during the verse but then gets out of the way of a bludgeoning beat in the chorus; Ellie Goulding does much of the same in "Outside," her and Harris' follow-up to their 2013 hit "I Need Your Love." Big Sean gets more room in "Open Wide" but his rapping still feels like a coach's encouragement to that whomping groove.
For all the intensity he delivers on "Motion," Harris is best -- and most easily distinguished from peers such as Zedd and David Guetta -- when he dials down the jock-jam vibe, as in "Love Now," a shimmering disco-soul cut featuring the London trio All About She, and "Ecstasy," with swooning vocals by Theo Hutchcraft of Hurts.
The producer boosts the tempo again for the typically chipper Gwen Stefani vehicle "Together" and "Pray to God," a jittery meet-up with L.A.'s Haim that sounds even more like Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen" than Haim usually does. But the presence of those strong women does wonders for Harris' amped-up music. They bring out the man, not the meathead, in the machine.
2 stars out of 4