I’m afraid Avicii‘s game has slipped a bit. His first album, 2013‘s True, was a refreshing take on EDM, revealing Avicii as a pop craftsman in his own right. In other words, the album consisted of actual songs, and not the endless, high-sugar DJ performances found at EDM shows all over the country right now. It signaled Avicii was serious, or perhaps more accurately at least wanted to be taken seriously as a recording artist. Avicii was a millionaire many times over after selling out huge gigs across the globe, but his foray into the studio album format was one he took his time completing, finally emerging with True in the fall of 2013. The lead single “Wake Me Up” wound up sweeping the world, baffling electronic and rock fans alike with the presence of an acoustic guitar, played by Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger in an almost folk-y arrangement.
As far as sales is concerned, though, True didn’t make a huge dent in the market, which makes sense: the world of EDM isn’t the recorded album. Still, there was enough crossover — “Wake Me Up” really was huge — into the pop world that True racked up several gold and platinum certifications overseas and charted at #5 here in the US. If Avicii were in any other genre than EDM, he would have been able to build upon that success with Stories, his 2015 follow-up. (Seriously, the pump was primed.) Alas, so far Stories has been a commercial disappointment from what I can tell, entering the Billboard 200 at #17. Billboard’s initial report has a slightly more positive take on it (at least in the headline), but the report is also quick to point out that Stories‘ first-week sales of an honestly pretty paltry 11,000 is a mere fifth of True‘s opening week of 50,000.
This illustrates just how indifferent the EDM world is to the concept of the studio album; the two universes just don’t intersect very much. The people I know who listen to EDM don’t buy music at all and pull up DJ’s performances on SoundCloud when they want to listen to music. As for the quality of Stories, it’s decent, but it’s not nearly as strong as True. Two tracks — “Talk to Myself” early on and “Pure Grinding” toward the end — are pretty fabulous, with “Pure Grinding” the more addictive of the two, but the rest of the album doesn’t rise to their level. It’s not due to a lack of track variety (if anything, Stories is even more eclectic than True), but just a lack of songwriting strength. Part of it is that, sonically, Stories is just more of the same — the pleasure of hearing an EDM/pop hybrid simply doesn’t have the shock of the new this time. Another weakness is Avicii’s general lack of presence as an artist — on record, he always seems more in the background, since he lets others sing his songs. (It’s not a weakness you’ll find when listening to the best electronic artists.) In the end, much of the record comes across as filler — it either doesn’t make much of an impression or, if it does, will fade from memory before too long.