After years of trying, superstar DJ Armin van Buuren finally scored that elusive mainstream hit with 2013’s Grammy-nominated “This Is What It Feels Like.” It’s little surprise, therefore, that the majority of his sixth studio effort, Embrace, sticks rigidly to his belatedly winning formula.
Indeed, “Heading Up High,” “Freefall” and “Indestructible” are just a handful of the songs that attempt to replicate the over-emotive male vocal delivery, hands-in-the-air chorus and watered-down big room house production that defined his Swedish House Mafia-esque breakthrough.
Throw in some uninspired bleepy trance collaborations with Cosmic Gate (“Embargo”) and fellow Dutchman Hardwell (“Off the Hook”), and a run-of-the-mill early Daft Punk throwback (“Gotta Be Love”), and this 15-track collection proves that originality certainly isn’t Armin van Buuren’s strong point.
Named in honour of his attempt to “embrace” several different sounds, the follow-up to Intense might have largely failed in its mission, but there are at least a couple of moments when things get as interesting as the Anton Corbijn-shot cover art.
Featuring an unlikely guest appearance from Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans, the opening title track flirts with smooth jazz before transforming into a cheesy electro-house anthem seemingly inspired by Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”
Free of any relentlessly pounding beats or skyscraping synths, the closing number “Looking for Your Name” is just as unexpected as Gavin DeGraw pours his heart out over nothing more than some delicate piano chords and cinematic strings, while the 80s-inspired hip-house of “Old Skool” also hints at what might have been.
Of course, it’s the more generic offerings which will preserve Armin van Buuren as a superclub favorite, but the frustratingly patchy Embrace proves that he’s capable of much more.