For the just-turned-18 crowd, Avicii’s sophomore studio album Stories is rife with opportunity to blissfully glug cheap alcohol and bellow “CHOOON” to no one in particular. For the rest of us, the mass of samey, Western twanged 4⁄4 beats begs the question, has EDM got anything decent left to say? Behind the scenes, Stories has an impressive list of unlikely names contributing to its banal beats – with the likes of Chris Martin, Brandon Flowers, and Wyclef Jean lending a hand. But even this isn’t enough to get the tracks on this album to reach the same irrepressible ecstasy of Levels or Silhouettes. Maybe I’m trapped in an EDM zeitgeist for my younger years. Or maybe the genre really has just run out of originality.
As a whole, the record has a surprisingly cohesive sound, despite Stories’ multitude of benefactors. The familiar Bluegrass drawl the Swedish DJ cajoled into his signature sound on True, bubbles throughout the whole record, with tracks such as Broken Arrows and Trouble showcasing it at its best. I’ll admit it’s hard not to tap along to these sorts of songs. But previous singles Wake Me Up and Hey Brother just do it so much better than Waiting For Love and The Nights. Yet there are instances where Avicii strays from this country/dance format. Pure Grinding dips its toe into the trap genre – but the incoherent babble that passes for a chorus makes me wonder, why bother? – while Can’t Catch Me’s zealously strummed guitars take a heavy reggae inspiration, veering off on a bizarre tangent. Sure these moments help to break up the blur of high-energy club tracks but they simultaneously feel out of place on the record.
“Stories” as a title strikes an uncomfortable chord with me, there being an implication of some form of narrative or message. Lyrically the album leaves a lot to be desired. Talk To Myself attempts to engage with some kind of confessional, with raspy vocals croaking out, “Some nights I talk to myself / I say the words I can say to no one else,” which unfortunately come across as vapid and lacking in poignancy. Indeed True Believer’s opening line “I wasn’t always the brightest, ‘til I learnt how to dance” is crooned in a painfully awkward way. The result is Avicii generating a pseudo-anthemic quality to the songs of Stories, which leaves us wanting more than they can deliver.
By and large, the album is a stodgy clump of over-produced EDM, flecked with some uplifting melodies but not much else. I’m sure there are club goers who will gobble this up with fervent vigour, enjoying the saccharine blend of darn-tootin’ beats and xylophonic synths. But to listen to a whole sixteen tracks straight through (yes this album is pretty large!) merely blends it all together until nothing is particularly memorable. And at no point is there a heart-pounding drop that is surely a necessity for a great EDM record.