It's time to stop calling Avicii EDM. If 2013's True was out to prove that a dance icon could ease into the pop arena, Stories is his bid for multiformat crossover. It's also more playful and easeful than the debut, even as it expands True's reach. Given Avicii's well-publicized health problems (issues related to gallbladder and appendix surgeries in 2014 led to a slew of canceled live dates), some melancholy would be understandable, but the mood of Stories is decidedly upbeat and lively. The ultra-polish has more of a human touch this time around, even if the Stockholm DJ's sparkly keyboard licks have the tendency to turn even semi-somber tracks into the equivalent of a rainbow-haired troll doll.
As with "Wake Me Up!" there's a heavy hint of country on some Stories cuts, particularly "Broken Arrows," featuring Zac Brown, which, like that 2013 breakout hit, sounds as if it's auditioning for Riverdance. But the dominant mode here is late-'90s pop-rock, particularly on "Pure Grinding," which is beer-bash semi-skank for the Sublime demo, and "Sunset Jesus," with Gavin DeGraw, whose splashy hooks resemble a beat-driven Smash Mouth or Third Eye Blind.
As on True, the nondance tracks are more or less power ballads, albeit with fairly pallid vocals: See "Ten More Days" and the quasiconfessional "Somewhere in Stockholm" ("I'm from a place where we never/Openly show our emotions/We drown our sorrows in bottomless bottles"). The big exception is "For a Better Day," which has a slight gospel feel, though guest vocalist Alex Ebert (of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros) has about as much churchy grit as High School Musical.