Steve Angello Goes Solo With Autobiographical Concept Album 'Wild Youth': Album Review
Swedish House Mafia, the hugely popular Stockholm EDM trio that parted ways in 2013, was scorned by detractors as bombastic. It was an accurate description of the group's music, of course, but an odd criticism, since SHM's project was a kind of experiment in the science of bombast: a test to see how many dancers could be moved, how many arenas filled, how many festivals headlined, when a walloping four-on-the-floor beat was hitched to an outsized inspirational slogan. Their "message" was starry-eyed and inane: "Turn up the love," "Don't you worry, child/See, heaven's got a plan for you," "Feel the energy deep inside your system/And leave this world behind," etc. Their music -- based on time-tested tension-and-release configurations of chirpy keyboard lines, pumping bass and that inexorable four-on-the-floor beat -- was crude but ultimately undeniable.
Two-thirds of SHM, the DJ-producers Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso, have teamed as a duo under the moniker Axwell + Ingrosso to serve up more of the same: Singles like "Sun Is Shining" and "Something New" feature big, hopeful bromides brayed over slabs of trance-streaked electro-house pomp. But the group's other former member, Steve Angello, is the one who actually wants to do, ahem, something new. The 33-year-old's solo debut, Wild Youth, released on his own Size Records, is a departure: an autobiographical concept album tracing a narrative arc from misbegotten youth to adult success. It includes lots of the customary musical tricks; fanciers of the thudding foursquare beat will not be disappointed. But it stirs in some different musical flavors, and tilts thematically from inspiration to confession.
Take "Prisoner," which delays the shift to full-throttle four-on-the-floor until the 2:14 mark, working its way through a verse full of electro bleeps and clangorous industrial-style synth stabs. The chorus glances inward: "I'm a prisoner to these feelings," cries guest vocalist Gary Go. Other songs also strike pensive notes. The blipping "Stockholm Skies" unfolds like a self-help monologue ("I've never been so ready/I've never felt so steady"); "The Ocean" puts brooding minor chords and wailing diva vocals behind a vague vignette about a road trip, or a spiritual epiphany, or something: "We drove out to the ocean/Stayed in your car for ages/Talking through the stages."
Such sentiments clearly mean something to Angello, but those meanings may not translate to the dancefloor, where his fans will in all likelihood be doing the usual: waiting, politely, through the slow-boiling buildups, for the kick-drum's inevitable slamming return. The truth is, Angello's storytelling and ruminating leave much to be desired. He's a far better extrovert than introvert: The best moments on Wild Youth are the shameless ones, where he delivers the familiar goods without embarrassment, if not without pretense.
Exhibit A is the single "Children of the Wild," a ridiculous piece of teen-rebel schlock whose big hokey chorus ("We are children of the wild, we take our chance to face the fall/Go on and on and on, to chase our shadows off the wall") might as well have been lifted off an early Bon Jovi record. In other words, it could have been a Swedish House Mafia record -- it's just that dumb, and that effective.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 23 issue of Billboard.