Swedish producer/DJ Alesso already has a name that tops festival billings, so at this point, putting out a debut album feels more like the fulfillment of a contract obligation than a choice based on any sort of artistic whim. The music on Forever does nothing to convince that it’s anything more than a business decision; just another easy win for those banking on EDM’s newfound commerciality. Alesso, for his part, counts on his fans recognizing the personal touches he puts in each of his songs, how each track is the product of his “emotional journey”, and regardless of the quality of the music, he comes off heartfelt and genuine in this respect. Then again, nothing is more marketable than humanity itself, and no matter how personal Alesso or his fans find Forever, the ultimate result is dispassionate, detached convention.
Even here, on his first foray into the album format, Alesso’s creative identity is heavily squashed by unoriginality. More often than not, even his electronic heritage is sidelined for generic radio pop moves. His mainstream songs follow a standard structure: songs begin with a light and steady chord progression and dainty four-on-the-floor kick, build to an anthemic vocal phrase and big dance break with a bright synthesizer melody, and finally hit a climactic peak after a broken-down bridge. It’s a familiar format that blends in perfectly on Top 40 radio and makes Alesso an easy artist to market to suburban festival goers who like big hooks, steady builds and powerful breakdowns, all effortlessly present on singles like “Cool”. Of course, that sense of epic, passionate grandeur is offset by Alesso’s affinity for the stock pop formula, and even those crucial dance elements turn to mere background scenery whenever convenient. Listen to the verses of “All This Love” where Alesso nearly drops the EDM pretense completely with pulsing electric guitars in place of his characteristic synths.
Predictably, almost everything on Forever is either a crude pastiche or a heavily sterilized version of something that’s been done many times before. If the album’s title is meant to evoke the eternity of Alesso’s art or its “good vibes”, it only makes more clear how disposable and forgettable it is. “Heroes (We Could Be)” boldly cribs from David Bowie’s “‘Heroes’”, but whereas the “heroes” of Bowie’s classic were regarded with ironic compassion, Alesso and guest vocalist Tove Lo are unironic in their furiously dull romanticism of power, riches and status, like high schoolers who walk away from Fight Club with the idea that they should start their own brawling league. Tove Lo even doubles down on it with a healthy smack of elitism: “Everyday people do everyday things but I can’t be one of them / I know you hear me now, we are a different kind, we can do anything.” You can see why mainstream EDM suddenly appeals to the privileged classes.
Alesso does show off some talent when there’s a break in Forever’s guestlist: “Payday”, with its acid synths and propulsive rhythms, is a serviceable club jam, and “Destinations”, despite its overwrought schmaltz (not nearly as painful as on the Ryan Tedder-featured “Scars”), makes for a relieving moment of calm in the middle of the album. Alesso, like most producers of his kind, hits the highest artistic marks when he’s not focused on making pop music concessions for his all-star collaborators (or record label heads, or his own “heroic” aspirations) and is instead tasked with commanding attention on his own individual merits. Whether or not he can manage that is a different conversation entirely. Banal club thumper “Tear the Roof Up”, for instance, suggests that Alesso is too dedicated to being an EDM superstar to craft something of greater value.
Of course, instrumentals don’t sell nearly as well, which explains why at least half the songs on Alesso’s debut album feature a forced partnership of some kind. Most of these, like “Heroes” and “Cool”, are far better showcases for the vocal talent than the production, which wouldn’t hurt the record so much if they weren’t all such artless, derivative house tracks that might as well have been put together on a production line by ad agency execs.
Still, Alesso can’t be faulted for making music that sells. Yes, its value is tied directly to dollar amounts, it hits the big markets and the right demographics, it’s universally understood, and any criticisms against it should be explained entirely in business lingo, stats and figures. But he can be faulted for significantly contributing to the slow and painful watering-down of electronic music by pandering to an audience that likes things simple, dramatic and plain. Historically, genre crossovers always get ragged on in their time, and, to be fair, even Miles Davis went pop after a while. But Forever isn’t Tutu. It’s simply the worst of generic pop music — the kind that’s existed for decades, just with a fresh new coat of EDM slapped on.