Review Summary: Except this wasn’t a different world at all. This was the mediocre reality of Earth in 2018.
EDM has long been earning itself the reputation (fairly or otherwise depending on your definition) as the more sanitised and marketable little brother of the electronic music family. Where in the late 90s and early 2000s it was seen as daring for mainstream artists to add a little heavy 4/4 thump into their repertoire, in 2018 the ‘featuring’ tag seems like a blunt admission from vocalists that maybe they might be out of ideas. But hey, if you’re riding the coat-tails of a trailblazing producer, the units will shift and it buys you a little more time to work on your solo material...
Or you could work with Alan Walker.
Let me preface by admitting I was a huge
fan of ‘Faded’. It was suitably twee and bouncy to grab my attention and set itself out a little bit from the pack of chart-friendly dross at the time. Hell, even the instrumental version of ‘Alone’ still puts a smile on my face. It’s so obnoxiously happy sounding and tweaks my soft spot for the Vengaboys that arguably should have died a long time ago. But ‘Faded’ was released in December 2015. ‘Alone’ was December 2016. If your debut full-length follows in December 2018, then sure there’s no issue in containing the songs that contributed to your success up to this point, but fans may have a bit of a right to expect a little bit of variety over the runtime. You’ve had long enough, after all. Different World
spectacularly fails to provide this, settling instead for some of the most frustratingly watered down compositions that arbitrarily limit themselves from becoming interesting for absolutely no reason at all - that’s if it’s not too cynical to suggest that Walker sees this project as a collection of singles rather than an album in its own right. Given that seven of the fifteen songs have been released at this point and three others are introductions and interludes, that doesn’t leave a lot of leeway for a structure as a full body of work, but I digress.
For all of the undeniable crystal clarity in the production on this record, the finished article sounds like Walker has spent the last 4 years learning the ins-and-outs of the demo version of his DAW. The vast majority of this album is dominated by the same three synth leads, the most irritating of which can only be described as a tinny, watery droplet. You may be familiar with it from the build-up to the ‘Faded’ chorus, but having subjected myself to this album, it’s genuinely one of the sole memories I can take away from the entire experience. Beyond this, we just have bouncy banger after bouncy banger, side-chained bass a-plenty, with the sole feature being that it carries just that little bit more swing than your average EDM release.
The vocal features on Different World
range from the passable to the downright dull, where the only notable moments come from the missteps. The vocalists on the two aforementioned singles are bafflingly uncredited (Iselin Solheim on ‘Faded’ and Noonie Bao on ‘Alone’), whereas elsewhere, Noah Cyrus makes another impassioned but fruitless plea to be seen as more than just an affordable version of her sister on ‘All Falls Down’, and Emelie Hollow turns one of the closest-to-experimental tracks (‘Lily’) into an uncomfortably saccharine and childish Eurovision entry - going by the melody, tone and inflection, one can’t help but feel that someone like Robyn would have been a ton more suited to the song. Besides these, it’s difficult to single out tracks for praise or criticism, because there’s just too little variance from one 3-minute segment to the next.
Credit where it’s due, this album has been created immaculately. If you’re a fan of EDM and a stickler for production quality then there will assuredly be something in here to sink your teeth into. Every now and then - all too rarely - there’s a choice of synth and a melody that just might tickle the ear right. However, if you’ve heard any of the singles up to this point there is next-to-nothing on show to suggest that there are any more tricks up Walker’s hoodie sleeve. Maybe the choice for the final track might be a sign that Different World
is a little self-aware - these 45 minutes will not go down in the memory for long, but Alan Walker was always ‘that dude who did that ‘Faded’ song’…