Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Who are we looking at today?
Swedish DJ Avicii is the latest in the David Guetta-Calvin Harris line of “DJs who engineered someone else’s hit trying to gain their own success”. Similar to how D.Guetta costarred the Black Eyed Peas’ largest single and Calvin Harris tapped with Rihanna in 2011, Avicii got his start when his song “Levels” (already an electronic hit) was sampled by Flo Rida for “Good Feeling”. After that, he’s been around while prepping his proper debut album True, from which we get “Wake Me Up!” And, despite only being responsible for notching one hit before “Wake Me Up!”, Avicii’s presence has been felt on the chart for the last year or so.
That “slap some acoustic guitar over a club jam” gimmick? He was near the start of that. “Good Feeling”, basically a “Levels” remix, brought that guitar to the front of the mix. About a year later, Ke$ha’s “Die Young” (a “Good Feeling” soundalike) used damn near the same chords, and was a major hit, too. And, thanks to the continued success of “strum your heart out” folkies like The Lumineers, we’re seeing more club meets folk/country abominations than we know what to do with. In short, Avicii is part of the reason that the Mumford and Sons/Ke$ha mash-up has gone from “silly novelty remix” to “eerily prophetic”.
Point of fairness, “Wake Me Up!” credibly sounds like a Mumford remix in so much that the guitar (care of Incubus’ Mike Enziger) has some honest to God texture to it instead of sounding like a few chords hammered out by the recording studio’s intern. The production on “Wake Me Up!’ overall is top notch, which should be no surprise, considering that it’s by a DJ. My favorite part of the song is the chorus before the proper synth hook comes back; the Mumford-style single bass drum, the guitar strumming, and bass all sound muscular without any hamfistedness. The synths themselves aren’t bad, and even follow a more “folk” sounding melody. “Wake Me Up!” is a deftly thorough exercise in genre cross-pollination.
But who on Earth is singing this thing? It’s not Avicii, is it? If so, the dude’s been on the wrong side of the recording booth. No, it turns out that those vocals belong to soul singer Aloe Blacc, whose biggest claim to fame is the opening for How to Make It In America. Blacc brings some emotional resonance to the song that might feel a little out of place, but it helps break up the song’s monotony (“Wake Me Up!”‘s biggest weakness is repetition–at a four minute runtime, the song could be a little tighter, or try a little more). What’s he singing about, though?
“Feeling my way through the darkness/Guided by a beating heart” Either you just switched senses from touch to hearing, or that is a disgustingly literal line.
“They tell me I’m too young to understand/They say I’m caught up in a dream/Well life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes/Well that’s fine by me” That was the longest way to restate “Living is easy with eyes closed” I’ve heard.
“So wake me up when it’s all over/When I’m older and wiser/All this time I was finding myself” …what? You just said to let you dream, but now you want us to wake you up “when it’s all over” and you’ve found yourself? Ok, I guess…
“I tried to carry the weight of the world/But I only have two hands” I love this line just for how surprised it sounds. Was he going dream up a third hand?
“Wish that I could stay forever this young/Not afraid to close my eyes” Holy shit, dude, PICK ONE. No one says, “Yeah, I’m going to dream away my life for the next decade, but as soon as I’m older, then I’ll get it together”. Just because Avicii and company made a Mumford beat doesn’t mean they needed to play Mad Libz with Mumford lyrics. And I know I’m nitpicking, but with a delivery as large as Blacc’s, you’d think he was singing something of gravitas.
“Wake Me Up!” is ok. The beat’s nice, the production’s great, and the idea is interesting, but something about it doesn’t quite click. The song combines club pop and arena-style folk, but misses the most satisfying part of both: the payoff. There’s no rush or catharsis to “Wake Me Up!”, and so it has to settle for being good instead of great. It’s a solid hit for Avicii, but simply the next in a long-line of constructed anthems, all size, no weight.