If there is one constant in the world of dance music, it is the ubiquity and proliferation of trance, specifically the sturm und drang of the Dutch trance sound, offered up by the high profile trio of Ferry Corsten, DJ Tiesto, and one Armin Van Buuren. Van Buuren’s career has been on the rise as of late: the man cranks out compilations at the same rate Tiesto did about 4-5 years ago, he’s in high demand for DJ dates worldwide, his radio show “A State Of Trance” is pored over by the trance massive with the same scrutiny Digweed fans follow his KISS show, and if his career continues along its current arc, he is the DJ most likely to unseat Tiesto from his three-year run as the people’s favorite in the annual DJ Magazine horse race. Does massive popularity translate, however, into artistic vitality? (One also wonders how popularity affects artistic decisions, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.)
“Shivers” is Armin Van Buuren’s first artist album (we won’t count “76”; that would be like saying “The QAT Collection” was Sasha’s first full-length album). It’s being touted as “a major step for (him) into full songwriting”, but if do you purchase this album, don’t expect anything innovative or groundbreaking. It’s a mish-mash of guest vocalists, stabs at “eclecticism”, forays into breakbeat, and the requisite Big Trance Moment – in other words, a fairly inconsistent work that misses far more often than it hits. The sound that Armin van Buuren both embraces and promulgates is fairly limiting to begin with, and it is evident in “Shivers”.
The lead track, “Wall of Sound”, featuring Justine Suissa (AvB’s previous vocalist from “Burned With Desire”) is big-room breakbeat trance executed in a standard but effective trance-by-the-numbers fashion: the vocals are dreamy and sultry, and it rises and peaks exactly when it’s supposed to. Anyone who regularly posts on tranceaddict.com will eat this up. “Empty State” continues in much the same way – this time using the dreamy, sultry (yes, again) male vocals of Mic Burns to a more pitched-up beat.
“Shivers” (slated as the official anthem of Sensation White, the world’s largest indoor rave) is an Anthem in big neon pink letters, just as it should be. This is van Buuren hitting on all cylinders, and one of the few shining moments of the album.
Things quickly go downhill from here – there’s the mid-tempo breakbeat track “Golddigger”, which simply shouldn’t be; “Zocalo”, a collaboration with Gabriel & Dresden that feels like studio leftovers (spaghetti western guitar lines don’t work well in a trance motif); and “Who Is Watching” featuring iio’s Nadia Ali – which sounds like, for lack of a better description, music you’d hear after your massage at a day spa.
There are but two other bright spots to be found on “Shivers” – “Bounce Back”, a decent go at progressive done in collaboration with fellow Dutchmen Remy and Roland Klinkenberg, and the best track, “Gypsy”, a punchy breakbeat number that melds quite effectively with the vocals of Ray Wilson, complete with lyrics that are not gratuitous pap, as is so often the case in vocal trance production work. As a stand-alone production by Armin van Buuren, “Gypsy” is the biggest success of the album; one wonders what “Shivers” would have been like had all the productions featured the same fully-formed connection and focus that it delivers on.
I recall my interview with Sander Kleinenberg, who mentioned in passing how difficult it must be for trance DJs to break the mold. That makes me think about Tiesto’s “Nyana” which actually included three fairly hardcore techno tracks as the opener – a ballsy move, I thought, for trance’s standard bearer. The point here is that change and progression comes slowly if at all in the world of trance; none of that is to be found here.