It's hard to say how influential DJ and producer David Guetta has been to today's pop music. I'd argue in his defense. He first broke into American charts in 2009, when he produced "When Love Takes Over" with Kelly Rowland. Then there was that whole annoying Black Eyed Peas, "I Gotta Feeling" thing.
Now he's back with his fifth album, and disc Guetta is calling Nothing But the Beat. The title is a bit misleading; the double-album's first disc indeed includes more than beats. Actually, it features a laundry list of appearances from Top 40 vocalists and rappers. A few of these appearances blunder, like an auto-tuned Snoop Dogg in "Sweat" and Nicki Minaj's yelling in "Where Them Girls At."
But Guetta's missteps throughout his first disc are ultimately vindicated by his inclusion of Usher and his transformation of the R&B star into a humbled champion on "Without You."
You see, throughout last year, singles out of Usher's Raymond v. Raymond and his Versus EP sounded really ostentatious. Tracks like "OMG," "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love" and "More" had Usher howling out notes to keep up with the blaring production.
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I think those tracks were about Usher pompously reveling in his bachelorhood that year. Basically, they were Usher's race car bed. But those tracks didn't reflect the charm or vocal talent that Usher built his fame on.
The track "Without You" goes another direction, tapping into Usher's vulnerability and talent. It begins with a reserved keyboard chord (one that slightly resembles the U2 song "With or Without You," interestingly enough), followed by Usher actually singing heartfelt lines. The chorus's French-disco beat sounds a bit more reserved and warmer than, say, the blaring saws in "Where Them Girls At," too. And Usher's delivery even earns him the right to have a faux-orchestra play behind him in the second verse without sounding too flashy.
With David Guetta's "Without You," Usher is able to provide the balance he's always wanted to strike between Top 40 party music and his R&B vocalist roots.
Really, this is the most competent track that either Guetta or Usher have released in a while.