A Welcome Return?
Avicii's debut album, True, was released back in 2013 when I reviewed it, exploding it back then which I claimed it was one of the best and also one of my favourite albums of that year. Almost 2 years later, quite possibly after many hopscotch releases from the DJ himself, he has released a new album to finally please fans. The thing is... will it? Well, we'll just have to see.
A True Divide
Almost 2 years later we find ourselves in a bit of a divide leading up to his sophomore release, where he released an EP with two songs - The Day and The Night - and to be fair it really didn't swim with a lot of fans, even with me. I am no hardcore Avicii fan but I will say I was the first to defend True when others felt it wasn't as good as it was. I saw it as a musical revelation that improvised and improved the house and EDM genre, allowing it to grow in specific areas rather than be locked in a small spot where it was going in circles.
Obviously the Days / Nights EP didn't sit well with people and rightly so. Avicii was criticized for deviating a little too much from his style and while I did feel it was a cautious step forward, it was needed for an artist to try something new. He did after all produce True with a multitude of different genres mashed into one, so if there's anybody that could lead it over the line, it could be Avicii. But that's the problem isn't it? He 'could'. The Day and The Night are nothing short of mainstream cliches with generic tones that felt like no real muscle was put into it. The meat of the songs was the bass drop, which The Day has after the song had almost finished and The Night provided some easy grooves in the meantime. The chorus and the lyrics are snappy and made with no real interest, and when the production kicks in, the rest are forgotten easily. And the production does shine when it does, to it's credit.
Along with the EP, Avicii released a few promotional singles leading up to Stories: Waiting for Love, Pure Grinding, For a Better Day. Singles after that were too close to release date so let's discuss the three in detail. The first track, if I were honest, followed in Wake Me Up's footsteps with a large vocal follow-up into this bass drop that was as terrible as Martin Garrix's Animals. Hard to miss Garrix as he teamed up with Avicii on the single. The lyrics are nothing short of painful writing, and mainly just to fill in the space leading up to the epic climax. Pure Grinding, while it being a funktronica and trap mix, definitely pulled Avicii out of his comfort zone and it is rather obviously so. It is a weird mix and right here, you could tell Avicii's gloves were off and he was just doing whatever he wanted. The problem? An in-cohesive, sluggish mess with a mashed in sax line while everything else came crushing down. For a Better Day does have a closer sound to True with the lean piano at the start before evolving into this overblown synth mayhem with no synergy at all. The chorus and the the rest of the song were like two cars having an accident. The grooves were mental fun but there was no meat to the song, making it less memorable than Avicii's other records.
At this point, my hype for Avicii's album did die down a little bit, but I did feel like I needed to make a review considering, well, I'm a fan.
Stories For All And Stories For None
If there was a music equivalent to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Stories would be close to matching it. It's not that it's similar to 40 cars trying to squeeze through an intersection 'close', but rather this album is probably diversified in many ways. Some good, some horrendous, while others are just plain fun. It was ultimately hard to find a song that emotionally connected with me per se and some could argue Waiting For Love and For A Better Day were the tracks, but I felt, while somehow in a square pegs-to-round holes kind of way did, they just didn't fit the bill.
If there was one word to sum up this entire album it would be that it is inconsistent. It's all over the place in not just genre-specific ways, but in tone, lengths, instruments, vocal volumes -- it was like Avicii was trying to fit the songs he felt was the best and lined them up in order. There was no cohesion as an album itself, especially when you know Avicii can do better - far better. The main thing was that this record lacked an overall identity, something that True had and stuck with it throughout it's entire length on that album.
The album in itself does feature more instruments, and Avicii uses them in an array of ways. As discussed, the beats on Pure Grinding does feel fresh, along with the sax lines, even though it's an incoherent mess. Even on the co-written Chris Martin of Coldplay and featured track True Believer and the heavy dance-pop Touch Me, the beats and bass lines really influence the songs exceptionally well. The former has Martin singing the innocent verse, seguing into a groove-heavy melody with the beats and bass. The latter track, Touch Me, feels like Liar Liar in a way, where the instruments paved the way for the vocals to shine. Ten More Days and Somewhere in Stockholm have positives to show as well when it comes to newer inputs.
There are songs that feel closer to True too, but it does feel as if Avicii has started to let go of that 'sound' in a way. Broken Arrows, Sunset Jesus and Trouble does happen to have the same traits as Stories' predecessor, but the songs are far, few and in between. The synth lines aren't as poignant nor as crunching as we've heard, but does lend itself as being easy for newer listeners to get into and with soaring vocals, it does stick out.
On the flip-side, as much as the album is good when it is, songs like For A Better Day, Can't Catch Me and maybe to an extent City Lights, are all songs I could've easily have done without. City Lights does feel as if it was trying to be a mixture of Hope There's Someone with the length of Dear Boy, but really doesn't hammer home the message it was trying to bring. Even the synth lines are fairly similar to Dear Boy.
While there isn't a "bad" song per se (the reggae enthused Can't Catch Me with Wyclef Jean and the trap trigger Pure Grinding), the album ultimately does suffer when the tracks are unlike one another. Line them up and you barely know they are all from the same album. While it does stem from the fact that it is, it doesn't take away the fact that the album in itself is messy when it is.
Pure Blinding - Conclusion
There are tracks that serve a purpose to be on the album while others are just a stepping stone to 'branch out', and sadly I didn't like it as much as True. There are tracks that are easy to swallow, easy on the ears and sound fairly similar to his previous release and feels close to home for those who are fans with Avicii, and ultimately it is worth recommending it too. Was it the explosive, improved album I had hoped for? Probably not, considering it spends too much time pandering to too many audiences and disappears from it's roots. I still think it's a good album worth checking out, albeit slightly disappointed.
Essential: Trouble, Sunset Jesus
Favourite Tracks: Broken Arrows
Least Favourite Tracks: Gonna Love Ya, Pure Grinding, Can't Catch Me
Benny Ong: Just your regular guy who likes soccer more than most people, and also a little downtime is pretty nice.