Until now, David Guetta’s main goal with his beat-laden EDM songs has been, in his own words, “all about making people dance.” But following a divorce from his wife of 22 years, the influential French super-producer told Rolling Stone that he wanted to go deeper on his sixth album, Listen.
“I spent way, way more time on songwriting,” he reports. “It’s probably my most personal album. Until today I was doing lots of songs about happiness and love and sexiness and just having a party—it was basically my life, you know? And lately, my personal life has been a little more difficult, so it reflects also on the album, on the things that we’re talking about, on the type of chords.”
Giving voice to Guetta’s “type of chords” this time around is a diverse cast of upper-echelon vocalists, including Ryan Tedder, Sia, John Legend, Emeli Sandé, Nico & Vinz, Magic!, The Script and even Nicki Minaj.
Australian chanteuse Sia’s two contributions are among the album’s most compelling. “Bang My Head” involves someone who’s determined to battle her way out of darkness: “I should have failed and nailed the floor/Instead I rose above it all/ … I have broken wings/I keep trying, trying/No, I won’t give up/Oh, I’m flying, flying.” She counsels, “When you think of giving up, don’t.”
“The Whisperer,” meanwhile, describes someone who’s seemingly on the threshold of taking her own life. “I was standing on the edge/I long for a new beginning,” Sia sings. “But I couldn’t look down/I went cold/A million voices scream in my head/And I felt sure that I would give in/So why couldn’t I now?” Her saving grace? God’s voice combined with a recollection of His command not to kill (“Your voice was louder/By design, God gave me feelings/And by the design they shalt not kill/But when the noises overwhelm me/I feel sure that they will”). There’s more. Amid all those voices, Guetta, via Sia, says that God’s whisper was what was needed most (“Your whisper in the breeze/Your whisper’s what I’m needing/ … And though I struggle through the days now/It helps to know that you are listening”).
Bebe Rexha is determined not to let a hard past drag her down on “Yesterday.” Ryan Tedder gets philosophical on “S.T.O.P.” as he laments life’s hectic pace (“When we rush and we push till we bend, till we break/How many days have we lost now?/ … All of the souls that we meet/In a rush, in a race, trying to find better streets”), and he says he wants to slow down with someone he cares about (“I’ll stop right now, but I’m stopping with you”). Lyrics also seem to critique casual sex (“I must admit, it took its toll/Trading your life for the light/For the night, it ain’t right if it’s all that you know”).
John Legend’s inspirational “Listen” says that’s exactly what we need to do in a topsy-turvy world. Similarly upbeat is Nico & Vinz’s contribution on “Lift Me Up.” They sing, “Inside a soul, there’s a hero to discover/ … We’re meant to be here for one another/Don’t forget, you’re my sister, you’re my brother.”
“Goodbye Friend” (featuring The Script) is an oddly optimistic breakup song: “I love every shade of you/Don’t lose your faith/ … No, this is not the end/Somewhere we’ll meet again.” And other lyrics point toward a heavenly reunion (“The world’s just a place/That we’re only passing through/Heaven awaits/Those that keep marching through”). “Sun Goes Down (featuring Magic!) promises, “As the earth moves in orbit/I will always be the one/Who stands my ground/I’ll be there when the sun goes down.”
The reggae-tinged “No Money No Love” is sung by Elliphant from the perspective of a broken prostitute. It’s not a happy story, but it is a cautionary one as the woman confesses, “I got my heart scarred/From all my sins/Was my payback to never feel again?” Clearly she longs for forgiveness and a second chance: “Do you see the scars bruising my skin?/Oh, I wish I could erase them and start all over again/Yeah, maybe I should get down on my knees and ask to be forgiven.”
Nicki Minaj brings her signature nastiness to the sexed-up “Hey Mama.” She belts out, “When you need that, I’ma let you have it/ … I keep the na-na real sweet for your eating/ … Your d–k game the truth/My screams is the proof/ … I been f—ing with you.” (Both harsh vulgarities are censored.) Then she advises, “So make sure that he’s getting his share/ … Be the lady and a freak.”
On “Lovers on the Sun,” Sam Martin longs for a transcendent feeling that starts to sound like it might include physical ones too. “Dangerous” hints at a lusty rendezvous. The object of a man’s faithful affection on “I’ll Keep Loving You” is far from being a good woman (“You are cruel, you are/But I’ll keep loving you”).
This French dance synth master and his long list of guest singers produce something here that might paradoxically be characterized as melancholy optimism. And while Europe is often depicted as one of the most secular regions on Earth, a surprising number of spiritual reflections permeate these 14 songs, from generic references to heaven to broken people aching for forgiveness to Sia’s powerful song about prayer and the voice of God helping her stave off suicidal thoughts.
So it’s refreshing to find out that an artist like David Guetta can begin to recognize that life is more than a nonstop rave, that there’s a void on the inside not fillable by sex and dancing. But while he’s clearly living up to his claim of trying to dive deeper with his lyrics, “love and sexiness” still do crop up here and there on Listen—especially when Nicki Minaj rolls out her tried-‘n’-tired sex shock shtick.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.