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Avicii - TIM Music Album Reviews

The Swedish EDM superstar’s posthumous final album purports to reveal Tim Bergling as he’s never been seen, but the scrum of co-writers and guest singers leaves more questions than answers.

What will Tim Bergling’s legacy be? At his commercial peak, the late dance producer, best known as Avicii, was reliable for field-sweeping big-tent anthems explicitly designed for mass uplift. There’s a scene of magical realism in the recent Elton John biopic Rocketman where, during the piano rocker’s legendary residency at Los Angeles venue the Troubadour, the entire audience literally levitates during an electrifying performance of “Crocodile Rock,” and it’s not hard to imagine something similar taking place in a raver-packed field, a collective festival throng floating on air to the cascading synth chorus of 2011’s EDM totem “Levels.”

Despite counting a number of real-deal stars in its confines, EDM itself—a subgenre of electronic music in strict economic terms, less definable by its toplines than its bottom line—has rarely made much hay of those stars’ actual personalities, to the point where some of them rarely (if ever) reveal their faces to the general public. But as his career as Avicii rocketed upwards, Bergling’s personal problems became an inescapable part of his narrative. A warts-and-all 2013 GQ profile chronicled his struggle with alcohol abuse, and he was eventually diagnosed with acute pancreatitis—the symptoms of which include “severe, constant” abdominal pain.

Touring took a well-documented toll on Bergling’s health, and his tendency to overwork himself extended to the studio as well. The 2017 documentary Avicii: True Stories depicted marathon recording sessions in which he’d willfully skip meals, while multiple reports on the making of his final and posthumously released album, TIM, have accentuated Bergling’s capacity to push himself to the point of total burnout. For all the jabs that were thrown at EDM’s practitioners during its height, it’s unquestionable that its biggest stars were on a constant grind in a cultural environment that granted easy access to hedonism.

Two years after retiring from touring in 2016, Bergling, 28, died by alleged suicide last year in Muscat, Oman. As one of EDM’s most recognizable faces (he even notched a Ralph Lauren campaign the same year as the GQ profile), Bergling has come to represent the EDM era—a musical trend that rippled through popular culture as a whole—in a different light than when he was alive. It’s sadly ironic that, despite Bergling’s fastidiousness, TIM was unfinished at the time of his death; after being approached by Bergling’s father Klas, his friends Carl Falk, Vincent Pontare, and Salem Al Fakir stepped in to help finish TIM, proceeds of which go toward the Tim Bergling Foundation, established by his family to benefit mental-health and suicide-prevention charities. The album’s 12 tracks feature some familiar collaborators from Avicii’s world—Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who enlisted Bergling to produce their Ghost Stories cut “A Sky Full of Stars,” and R&B singer Aloe Blacc, of “Wake Me Up” fame—as well as Las Vegas pop-rockers Imagine Dragons and singer Noonie Bao.

EDM’s big names work in sound and style foremost, and perhaps the biggest takeaway from TIM is that, similar to many of his peers, Bergling saw EDM’s drop-reliant trend crashing and had his sights set on mass-market pop as a whole. The finger-snapping “Bad Reputation” smacks of the sanded-down, adult-contemporary electronic sound the Chainsmokers made their names on, while the closest thing the record possesses to a drop—the bassy “Hold the Line"—is less of the buzzsaw variety and more the soft, cushiony blow that Diplo has embedded into his pop productions. Most curiously, the soothed-out opener “Peace of Mind” is strongly reminiscent of Spanish producer John Talabot’s 2012 single “Destiny,” while Martin and Imagine Dragons’ respective contributions ("Heaven,” “Heart on My Sleeve”) don’t stray too far from the CGI emotionalism that’s come to be expected from both entities.

On a purely sonic level, TIM is an easy listen to a fault, but taking in this final artistic statement is more difficult when focusing on the lyrics. For the most part, Bergling’s past discography as Avicii—the 2013 debut True and 2015’s follow-up Stories—kept the mood as light and starry-eyed as EDM gets, the closest thing to pure melancholia being a surprisingly dour cover of Antony and the Johnsons’ “Hope There’s Someone,” on True. But the lyrics on TIM—which Bergling had a hand in penning—explicitly evoke the personal struggles that have since come to light after his death. “We don’t have to die young,” Zachary Charles of A R I Z O N A sings on “Hold the Line”; over the gently pulsing trop-house of “Freak,” vocalist BONN claims, “I don’t want you to see how depressed I’ve been/You were never the high one, never wanted to die young.”

Elsewhere, Chris Martin sounds characteristically filled with wonder (and characteristically hammy) on “Heaven,” singing, “I think I just died/And went to heaven.” Such grim lyrical prescience is reminiscent of Lil Peep’s “Life Is Beautiful” from last year’s posthumously released Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 2, on which the late emo-rap icon admits, "I think I’m-a die alone inside my room." Such a statement coming directly from Peep himself packs an undeniable amount of emotional power—but the overall impact of TIM’s lyrical parallels feels different, almost anti-cathartic.

EDM typically relies on guest vocalists to do the lyrical heavy lifting, but hearing TIM’s coterie of voices singing such loaded lyrics seemingly (or at least plausibly) representative of Bergling’s perspective produces an unsettling sensation of remove. The effect of these contributors effectively recasting his personal sentiments over once-unfinished music is haunting in all the wrong ways. It is a sobering reminder that we’re no closer to understanding the roots of his pain now than when he was alive.

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