As a vehicle for a dozen or so singers from various musical walks to broaden their audience on an international scale, Avicii‘s Stories is a glowing success. As a cohesive album that serves to reinforce his emerging identity as an artist, though, it’s a bit of a failure.
On 2013’s True, Avicii had already laid the foundation for the pop and folk-infused brand of main stage EDM that had become his trademark sound. Songs like “Wake Me Up” and “Hey Brother” blended crisp hoover synths with rich instrumentals and vocals, resulting in a fusion with such mass appeal that it made the former track the most played video on YouTube in 2014.
Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Avicii’s sound was instrumental to EDM reaching mainstream audiences. However, Stories doesn’t even boast such a stylistic balance. In this album, Avicii has all but abandoned electronic music – and what he’s replaced it with might be welcome if it were at least consistent, but with how many different genres he tried to fit into the effort, it comes across as the symptom of a musical identity crisis. If when listening to an album you actually find yourself thinking that you miss “Levels,” it’s definitely not going to win album of the year.
Make no mistake, though – individually, there are plenty of good songs on Stories. As overplayed as “Waiting for Love,” “For a Better Day” and “Pure Grinding” have been since Avicii let them trickle out in the months leading up to the album’s release, they’re at least quality tracks as far as arrangement and lyrics are concerned. It’s just that none of them really sound like each other, or like Avicii – whatever that even means at this point.
There are still a few songs on Stories that actually are driven by a synth melody, outnumbered as they may be. “True Believer,” “City Lights” and “Sunset Jesus” sound enough like progressive house not to be as much of a betrayal to Avicii’s roots as most of the other tracks – even if they’re the most watered-down, easy-to-swallow version of EDM imaginable. Still, they’re catchy and easy to listen to, and sound like the Avicii we all know.
Other songs bounce spastically from genre to genre, however. Between tracks like the folksy power ballad that is “Ten More Days” and the reggaeton-influenced “Can’t Catch Me,” the whole of the effort lacks a consistent musical identity, coming across as the product of a board meeting where market researchers used a state-of-the-art algorithm to determine how to make the album appeal to as many demographics as possible. In this regard, perhaps the worst aggressor is “Trouble,” a mostly acoustic number with a pop-country twang that has no place coming from the mind of a Swedish EDM artist.
As for the strongest song on the album, it’s easily “Talk to Myself,” for its funky fusion of disco strings, xylophone synths and infectious vocals. It recalls the producer’s signature sound pre-True and should please those who’ve been a fan of his since the early days while incorporating just enough contemporary elements to make it appeal to newer audiences as well. If it were up to me, the bulk of Stories would have been an exploration of this sound in particular, instead of the musical ADHD that manifested itself into an album.
By and large, Avicii‘s Stories just doesn’t come across as a genuine artistic endeavor. It seems awfully early in the EDM movement to see artists of his stature begin to jump ship, and while it’s not an album of terrible songs by any measure, it simply casts too wide of a net, which ultimately leaves it feeling disingenuous. At this rate, perhaps the young producer’s fanbase ought to expect him to put out compilations of various other musicians’ songs every few years in place of what his team tries to pass off as original albums. If nothing else, it would make for better-managed expectations.
Avicii's follow up to 2013's True further stretches out the Swedish DJ/producer's style - to the point that it breaks and yields a stylistically fragmented collection of songs that, while mostly effective on their own, fail to compliment each other or tell any greater story.