Remember when Sideshow Bob stepped on a rake and got thwacked in the face with the handle…and then did it again, and again, and again? And then the camera widened out and showed him surrounded by about 20 more rakes? And then he stepped on another rake? And another? And another? And then the show cut to the inside of the Simpson’s Witness Protection-provided houseboat and you heard the sound of Sideshow Bob stepping on another rake? And then later on in the episode, when he finally managed to climb aboard the houseboat, and with the very first step on deck he managed to step squarely onto another rake? With the “Cape Feare” episode, the writers of The Simpsons proved the hypothesis that if you extend one gag long enough, it modifies the overall tone of the gag to the point that it moves from being funny to being not funny to being funny again.
I could be charitable and suggest David Guetta’s new album, Nothing But the Beat, is an attempt to transpose this theory into the world of floor-filling, endocrinological dance-pop, that Guetta’s total artistic bankruptcy is, in actuality, just a red herring and that deep within his sense-deadening assembly line of club killers are unique nuggets of, if not brilliance, at least mild interest. But no, the simple and disheartening truth of the matter is that Guetta simply supplies the soundtrack for a demographic that likes the sonic equivalent of being struck in the face with a rake handle over and over and over again. (I will say, though, that Nothing But the Beat does end in exactly the same place as it started: the total annihilation of an electro inferno.)
The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” (which Guetta helped form) was the initial rake heard ’round the world, and in the wake of its direct hit, everything he’s done since has been an exact facsimile. Ibiza-distilled, full intention kick beats? Check. Eardrum-assaulting, stadium-ready synthesizer chords blasting out like syncopated lasers? Check. American hip-hop and/or R&B royalty fronting good times? Check. Lyrics about clubbing more or less jerry-rigged to give everyone tipsy on Jag bombs a sense of instant total recall? Check. Auto-Tune? Check. Guetta’s formula is pure aggression, and in an odd way, it’s the unintended fulfillment of Prince’s “1999”—all those amassed dancing blindly to avoid having to face the white elephant in the room, which in Prince’s case was the end of the world, but for Guetta is merely the vague, depressing realization that his brand of clubbing is a form of dissociative disorder.
Which only leaves his fans hungry to keep filling the void with his latest junk-smack hit. Not for nothing is one of Nothing But the Beat’s more characteristic tracks called “Repeat.” Actually, I take that back. There’s no such thing here as a “more characteristic” track, because they’re all virtually identical. From “Where Them Girls At,” which manages to steamroll all the personality out of Nicki Minaj, to will.i.am’s return of the Faustian favor on “Nothing Really Matters,” deviation from what currently passes for the pleasure principle (thanks to Mr. Guetta) is virtually nil, unless it’s to match his music’s robotic meter with appropriately pornographic overtures. To bring you up to speed, Snoop Dogg is going to get you “Wet,” and Timbaland assures, “I Just Wanna Fuck.” The latter’s verse runs through the alphabet—“A-a-a b-b-b c-c d-d e-e F U”—like a nightmarish alternate version of “Sesame Street” brought to you by the letter “Fuck,” and Tim spells the seduction out plainly: “I’m gonna put this in your mouth.”
The album’s only comparative highlight, Jennifer Hudson’s “Night of Your Life,” is also a bald rip-off of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World),” which I’m sure Guetta felt justified in swiping since the track does owe some small debt to his blueprint. Unfortunately for him, the reclamation only reinforces his limited talent. His sound may be the most influential force in pop music today, but he’s paradoxically been artistically overshadowed by imitators and innovators alike, all of whom demonstrate a better understanding of power pop’s legacy (Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory”), dance-floor dynamics (Rihanna’s “S&M”), and ridiculous self-awareness (LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem”). Guetta might be one of the only people given partial credit for creating a sea change in pop music who’s also unquestionably the least compelling example of that style.