Calvin Harris is full of shit and dead serious. Pop music is, probably, the best arena for expressing oneself as such. Simple structures can be innovated upon, torn apart and reconstructed, revealing some things about their composers as they conceal others. At 23 years old, what is evident about Calvin Harris is that he has precociously channeled an interest in diverse strands of pop and dance music into pop music with a distinctly dance aesthetic. He is an undeniably clever producer, from minimal means constructing taut party anthems, songs to get people moving, carousing and comfortably started upon the path to a stranger’s bed.
After a relatively sudden rise to ubiquity in the United Kingdom, his debut album I Created Disco has been released in the States by Almost Gold Recordings. It’s a party record, as it more or less proclaims on the opening track, “Merrymaking at My Place,” an ode to house party hi-jinx—in the main, of the narcotic variety. That’s about as sincere as the lyrical content gets, aside from Harris’ avidly professed distaste for girls who shy away from wearing colors. As he says himself, “My tunes aren’t supposed to invoke deep thought within people; they’re just to get you dancing.” That’s not to say that there isn’t any intelligence on display here. The lyrics are for the most part tossed off and arbitrary—or, in simpler, cruder terms, trite bullshit—but without doubt he is sharply focused on the nuances of his productions, which, in this case, is where the focus should be.
Calvin Harris’ first UK single, “Acceptable in the 80’s,” which rose to a top ten chart position there, will also be his first single in the US. It oozes excess and decadence, but playfully, flippantly so. It is meant to be fun and to inspire people to get off their asses and enjoy themselves, without thinking to much about what it all means. And, while the same can be said for the rest of the album, “Acceptable in the 80’s” embodies the principle in its essence. “It was acceptable in the 80’s/ It was acceptable at the time“: Harris could very well be singing about the song itself, the way its sheer, unadulterated indulgence indulges listeners to indulge. Or, for that matter, again, it could pertain to his whole sensibility, as displayed on I Created Disco. The mythologizing title of the album, caddishly tongue-in-cheek, proclaiming a desire to bring back music, the mirror of which is the conscience-free ecstasy of disco-culture and ’80s decadence, the good ol’ days when it was acceptable for a person to wallow in the high times without being stigmatized.
With these “high times” comes a keen interest in sex. The two songs on I Created Disco that specifically take up the subject of the ladies, are the two that display Harris’ wit at its finest. Or, they are the two that make him seem a bit ridiculous, but I tend to go with the former reading. “Colours,” a rocker dressed up in staccato rhythms and languid synth pulses, is also the edgiest, the starkest and most, however superficially, sinister. Somehow, it is the perfect musical setting to house a rant about women’s clothing, punctuated by Harris’ repeated, bloodlessly intoned, imperative: “Get some colours on.” Toning down the glitz in which the album is drenched for the track, he manages to summon an atmosphere which renders his subject as if it were of the most dire concern. He manages this trick one other time, on the title track, a surge of electro-bombast with a mock interview cut into it in which he explains, “During one session, I discovered that by using a succession of techniques, I actually developed during the war, I could create an entirely new genre of music. And that was the night I created disco.”
“The Girls,” complete with a list of which types of girls he likes—the majority of them from the sound of it—is boasting, bravado-laden pop that stands tall among the throngs of boasting, bravado laden pop. The track is bouncy and exuberant, skittering playfully, as Harris does his I-get-all-the-girls-so-I-ain’t-gonna-be-faithful shtick. The whole act is obviously a bit old hat by now, but Calvin Harris has the charisma necessary to pull it off, like the jester who speaks the truth in the guise of lunacies. Dead serious and full of shit. Really though, an entire album of this is a bit much. Neo-Disco tracks about going to Vegas, car and pills in tow, should have a shelf life shorter than just about anything currently on the market, and far to many of the tracks blur together in a non-sensorial swirl of conjured neon-lights and, like the drugs mentioned on more than a few tracks, they, after their allotted time, sit heavy on the chest of users on the come down. What is impressive is that Calvin Harris so quickly and ably carved out a recognizable persona for himself in a world crowded with personas. Whether that persona lasts longer than the post-party malaise it quite possibly will engender, remains to be seen.