Creating high-energy dance songs for female pop stars is a crowded business in 2012, one dominated by professional hit makers such as Diplo, Max Martin and Dr. Luke. So you can understand why the Scottish writer-producer Calvin Harris, who broke through in the U.S. last year with Rihanna's chart-topping "We Found Love," diversifies his attack on "18 Months." The third album he's released under his own name, it contains relatively grimy collaborations with English rappers ("Here 2 China," featuring Dizzee Rascal), a pitch-perfect piece of early-'80s slap-bass funk ("School") and "Awooga," the squelchy electro track LMFAO recently borrowed for its "Reminds Me of You."
Despite that variety, "18 Months" only deepens the impression that Harris is best when linked with a lady; his skills in that area are several times more developed than they are anywhere else. In "Sweet Nothing" he frames Florence Welch's disco-gospel wail with bleeping Morse-code synths. "I Need Your Love" makes an unlikely house diva of Ellie Goulding. He doesn't need star power to shine, either: The finest song here, "Thinking About You," uses the underground bass-music vocalist Ayah Marar to call up very fond memories of work by Lisa Stansfield and Everything but the Girl. The latter act's name suggests a principle Harris would do well to avoid.