Every once in a while an album comes along that changes everything. A concept album that changes the way people look at pop music, like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” or an album that sparks national controversy, like NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton.” Calvin Harris’ “I Created Disco,” despite the title’s implication that it heralds the start of a musical revolution, is not one of these albums. But its unrelentingly frivolous, absurd bent is exactly the basis of its appeal and perhaps, its point.
“I Created Disco” is the self-produced debut album of Calvin Harris, a 23-year-old Scottish musician-cum-producer. Although Harris previously released a club single in 2002, he was only signed in 2006, after EMI discovered him on MySpace. Since its U.K. release in June, the album has exploded in popularity: Two singles from “I Created Disco” have already charted in the U.K., and one, “Acceptable in the 80s,” remained in the top 10 in the U.K. singles chart for 15 weeks. Most recently, Harris finished a tour with European techno artists Faithless and Groove Armada and is working as a producer for a song on Kylie Minogue’s new album.
But, despite its name, “I Created Disco” has little to do with disco at all — beyond a tendency to provoke dancing in its listeners — and much more to do with revamped 80s electro pop. Calvin Harris would be The Streets if he skipped straight to the chorus, LCD Soundsystem if they added synthesizers to everything. In short, every song sounds vaguely familiar. “Merrymaking At My Place,” the most danceable track, is a thematic update of Bobby Darin’s 1958 hit “Splish Splash,” and “The Girls” sounds, with Harris’ sing-song delivery and arrogant, flirty tone, like an electro pop response to The Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like.”
On most tracks, Harris relies on bass lines to carry the songs and sticks to simple lyrics like, “I like them tall girls / I like them short girls” and campy synthesizer riffs. Sometimes, however, the caliber of the music cannot make up for the vacuous subject matter, like getting one’s girlfriend to dress right, being properly outfitted for Las Vegas and nostalgia for the 1980s. Two of the tracks on “I Created Disco” are obviously filler, and “Vegas” recycles the beat from “Acceptable in the 80s.” The most disappointing track, however, is the last.
After an album full of dance-worthy beats and ridiculous lyrics about partying, the last track, “Electro Man,” comes as an unpleasant surprise. The synthesizers and simple lyrics, delivered in a sleepy monotone, fail because the backbone of Harris’ music, the bass line, is missing. The drumbeat that sits in its place is equivalent to aural Chinese water torture. As a result, the album trails off, rather than coming to a satisfying conclusion.
While the claim he created disco, or even recreated it, is dubious, Calvin Harris nonetheless can take credit for a few stand-out party tracks.