David Guetta's Dance Music Melting Pot
People were so busy comparing Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" to Madonna's "Express Yourself" earlier this year that they didn't notice the similarities between the lead single from Gaga's new album and French DJ/producer David Guetta's 2009 Kelly Rowland collaboration "When Love Takes Over." Indeed, when you strip both artists down to their sonics, the cultural revolution represented by Guetta's two most recent records could be potentially more significant than anything yet manifested by Gaga.
Guetta, neither a prissy purist nor a smug segregationist, is effortlessly bringing the mutually embattled worlds of rap, r&b, pop, rock, and underground dance music together in ways only hoped for by America's most idealistic DJs. His new album Nothing But the Beat (Capitol) solidifies his bid to be the Quincy Jones of contemporary groove pop, even while his critics dismiss his admiration of seminal experiments in American rap and underground disco. But Guetta never wholly replicates his favorite atavisms; he merely evokes and pays passionate homage to them.
Echoes of Hanson & Davis, the NYC Peech Boys, and even the Taurus Boys are audible in some of the male choruses Guetta deploys, and he has the ability to summon the laser-like timbres of vintage Phil Collins or Annie Lennox from his star vocalists. But he carefully updates all such allusions with modern touches. Guetta is naturally funky, with a nuanced ear for the percussive tones and textures of the human voice, and he gets spectacular results out of letting singers add both syncopation and hooky harmonic variety to what would otherwise be a turgid and overly redundant series of loops.
Guetta fell in love with the raw emotion of Chicago house after hearing Farley "Jackmaster" Funk's sampled 12-inch "Love Can't Turn Around" on French radio in 1987. That's why he still likes to make vocals float above crisp musical beds, their lyrics etched in sonic relief against propulsive backing tracks. Guetta's first production was a collaboration with a French rapper; his second single "Up & Away" was a 1994 collaboration with Chicago house legend Robert Owens. He cultivated a following by running theme nights at various clubs in and out of Paris. He co-founded GUM, an artist-oriented production company, in 2001, then released the first of many collaborations with American singer Chris Willis. The following year, that single became the title track of Guetta's first studio album A Little More Love.
Nuances of intonation, identity and intent are rarely lost on Guetta, which is why the rappers he works don't lose their edge in the middle of electroclash rave-ups and why divas like Kelly Rowland lose not a shred of dignity or gravitas when wailing against his dubwise walls of sound.
Where the 12 succinct edits on his 2009 album One Love served as teasers for longer, lusher 12-inch recordings, the deluxe version of Nothing But the Beatwhich is split between a disc of vocally led tracks and an all-instrumental discmore resembles a polished mastermix that takes its influences from all over the map. The dreamy piano intro to "The Alphabeat" resolves prog-rock noodling; "Paris," a tribute to Guetta's home town, is snare-driven French techno; "Toy Story" is dream house re-purposed as an anime soundtrack; and the trippy construction of "Glasgow" proves that club music can hit on the two and four just like a funk tune, yet feel completely different. Guetta's heaping side portion of instrumentals may fly mostly over the heads of crossover fans, but he wants us to understand his exotic rootsand to eat our vegetables.