Thursday, November 8, 2012

Music Reviews: Calvin Harris' '18 Months' and Kylie Minogue's 'The Abbey Road Sessions'

By John Hill

Calvin Harris – 18 Months

Of all the albums I have reviewed, 18 Months may be the easiest one yet because I already know half of the album. By the time this album was released in October of 2012, it had been about 18 months since the first single “Bounce” was released, easily making this one of the longest promotional pushes for an album that I can recall. 

Looks like it’s worked, though: in his native England, every single released has gone to either number two or number one, and he has scored two top 20 hits here in the US (“Feel So Close” and “Let’s Go”). That’s not counting Rihanna’s number one smash “We Found Love” that Calvin shares billing on.

The biggest concern coming into an album like this is that it sounds more like a Greatest Hits set than an original album, but by the time I hit track four (“We Found Love”), the album started to feel like a sonically consistent disc that flowed from one thumping track to the next. To Harris’s credit, the instrumental tracks do a great job of binding all of the hit singles together. Even hip-hop cuts from Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal still fit in despite not being “dance.” However, the revelation on this disc is “Thinking About You,” with vocals from frequent collaborator Ayah Marar. That cut alone makes releasing the whole disc worthwhile and needs to be released as a single soon. Skip the latest NOW hits collection and pick up 18 Months instead.
Kylie Minogue – The Abbey Road Sessions
When die-hard fans of Kylie Minogue think about her older material, they think about high-energy jams like “Hand on Your Heart” and “Better the Devil You Know.” But a well-established diva like Kylie can only perform the same version of the same song so many times before she (and probably her audience) gets sick of it. To her credit, Minogue has been reworking her classics live for years, breathing new life into songs like “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and “The Locomotion.” Now, as she celebrates 25 years in the business, Kylie has released The Abbey Road Sessions, recorded at the famed Abbey Road studios at the end of 2011.

While it might be easy to call this set a gimmicky throwaway, there are some impressive moments. “Confide in Me,” which always was a bit dark and sinister, amps up the Middle East flair and slithers along. Speaking of sinister, Kylie’s duet with Nick Cave “Where the Wild Roses Grow” is a perfect match for this format, and Cave even shows up to reprise his role. A high-energy track like “On a Night Like This” takes on a slinkier sexy vibe, and “Better the Devil You Know” becomes a mournful ode to decisions in a relationship. There are a few misses: “All the Lovers,” which soars based on a strong production and vocal, doesn’t fit the new format well, and “Slow” is just TOO slow. The sole new track “Flower,” which was recorded but never released on X, is a gorgeous ballad, proving that if Kylie decides to leave the dancefloor fillers behind at some point, she will have more mature fare to fill in that fits her like a glove. 
While his full-time job is in education, John Hill also writes a successful music blog titled Pop Music Notes. He is also active on Twitter @popmusicnotes and lives in Denver with his partners in crime James and Bruiser.

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