It’s hard to put your finger on Zedd; he’s sort of an EDM artist, but he’s also sort of a pop artist. On the one hand, he’s a classically trained musician turned DJ/producer – so it’s not like his entire career has been the result of some board meeting between a bunch guys in suits. On the other, he’s a scruffy, cuddly-looking teeny bopper magnet who puts out gushy love songs and engages in well-publicized courtships with pop stars.
In his 2012 debut album, Clarity, he somehow managed to straddle the line tastefully. Songs like “Spectrum,” “Lost at Sea” and the title track itself will undoubtedly be remembered as works symbolic of EDM’s crossover into the mainstream, key components of an organic synthesis between the best of both musical worlds. Unfortunately, his most recent effort, True Colors, is 50 minutes of the young artist being pulled too hard in both directions at once.
Colors’ disjointedness begins at the very first track, “Addicted to a Memory,” which Zedd used as a teaser for the album a month ago. The song showcases his signature fusion between rich instrumentals, chugging electro house and serene vocals (by Bahari, in this case) – but sometime during the second breakdown, it embarks on a perplexing tangent. The melody froths up into a pretentious keyboard solo too terse for the rest of the song, and outside the range of what the synths really ought to be used for. The result is that the second half of the song sounds more like a video-gamey Savant track and doesn’t fit well with the first. Earlier in the year Zedd remarked that he wanted everything on the album to sound good when played on the piano, but this part likely only sounds good played on the piano.
Next on the tracklist is “I Want You to Know,” another song that trickled out before the album’s official release. The culmination of Zedd and pop sensation Selena Gomez’ time together in the studio this year (aside from their tabloid filler romance, of course), the song makes no attempt to sound as painfully cerebral as the first. Instead, it suffers quite the opposite dilemma: It’s basically made for a Kidz Bop album.
The hip-hop influenced “Transmission” is only slightly more memorable than the interchangeable “Beautiful” and “Done with Love,” the latter of which even has a buildup-drop scheme starting at 3:25 that sounds almost identical to the one at 2:00 in the aforementioned “Spectrum.”
Meanwhile, the album’s title track manages to capture a smoldering wistfulness that makes it come across as more sincere than the rest of the songs up to that point. Even though it doesn’t exactly even sound like a Zedd song, it’s likely still the best on the album.
“Straight Into the Fire” and “Papercut” contribute with True Colors‘ overall identity crisis, while Zedd’s collaboration with Botnek, “Bumblebee,” closer resembles his electro house bangers of yesteryear – a welcome digression from the sickeningly sweet melodies of the rest of the album. A thumping big room house drop punctuates complectro synth leads and distorted vocal samples in a manner that actually compliments them instead of distracting from them.
Finally, “Daisy” and “Illusion” wrap things up with more of the EDM-sandwiched-in-pop style that’s exhibited in the rest of the album, although the latter track does so somewhat more successfully.
The best thing that can be said about True Colors is that even though it certainly doesn’t stand out as Zedd’s best work to date, it’s not likely that any other artist could have pulled off what he attempted any better. While his sophomore effort won’t likely prove as timeless as his debut album, it takes a few risks that the first didn’t. Its failings are certainly not severe enough to derail his career, and perhaps when the time comes for him to hole up in the studio to start on a third effort, he’ll find the magic formula he’s looking for.
Zedd obviously set the bar pretty high with his debut album, but True Colors doesn't come anywhere close to matching up to it. While parts of it are engaging enough, as a whole, it's little more than a collection of catchy hooks and drops masquerading as postmodern compositions.