Anyone into electronic music within the last ten years should be aware of Armin van Buuren, the Dutch trance producer that has raised his status over the years to have been voted the world's #1 DJ for four years in a row and has created some memorable trance and even poppy tunes alike, including that "This Is What It Feels Like" song that infected even the wussiest of local radio stations. And he definitely gained a new edge and increased overall popularity in 2008 with his album, Imagine, alongside a new producing partner in Benno de Goeij, also known for his involvement in the trance legend group Rank 1. Since those days, it seems as though Armin rarely produces alone anymore. But there was a time, oh, there was indeed a time when he flew solo and danced to the beat of his own drum, the last evidence of this being his 2005 album, "Shivers". After re-listening to this album, I'm actually more thankful for de Goeij because Shivers hasn't stood the test of time rather well. In fact, it's a bit of a dry album.
The album shuffles right out with a wall of sound in the song CALLED Wall Of Sound, featuring the vocals of Justine Suissa, made famous by her many collaborations with OceanLab throughout the 2000s. And frankly, without her sweet uplifting voice, this track would be as exciting as a strip of Melba toast. There's barely a melody to speak of, so the song is pretty much guided by Suissa and the somewhat atmospheric humming bassline in the background. I'd recommend this song just for Suissa's cool vocals (or the later remix by Airbase, which actually gives this tune some zip). After this comes Empty State with semi-rapping by Mic Burns. No, it isn't a burning microphone; he's just called "Mic Burns". My favourite part of this track is actually the tribal rhythm intro and outro used, alongside some catchy jungle chants. The buzzing bass sneaks its way in, and it fits. Burns soon steps in at the 2:39 mark and does his bit. His vocals are... okay, though he doesn't seem to be putting his full effort into them.
The title track, Shivers, is actually the track that brought Armin to my attention in the first place many years ago. I caught the music video online, and the song was immediately infectious. Though its power has faded over time, I still think it's probably the top tune on the album. It's one of the few that could actually be classified as trance among this rather varied selection of goods. Using the voice of Susana (just Susana, no last name required), Armin delivers a melody that gains its edge by ending on a different note than would normally be predicted. The combination of Susana's powerful singing and Armin's pounding chorus make for the true highlight of this album without a doubt.
Golddigger features the vocals of Martijn Hagens from the Dutch pop group Rosemary's Sons. This one's a slower departure from Armin's usual image of powerful trance, instead focusing on a cacophony of various deep instruments and some industrial beats as Hagens croons about his lost girlfriend/golddigger. It's not bad, but it feels a little out of place on a trance album. But we haven't even reached the bottom of the barrel yet: that honour goes to Zocalo, a teaming of Armin van Buuren and American DJ duo Gabriel & Dresden. I've always found productions by Gabriel & Dresden to be, well, extremely mindnumbing and boring, which would explain why I think Zocalo is wasted space on Shivers that could have been used for something a little more substantial. Zocalo's hook lies in some very simple guitar plucks as its melody, and with it, the song is lacking something. Okay, it's lacking a LOT. This tune is almost nine minutes in length, and it can't survive off fake bass in the background and a few plucks alone. But it certainly tries and fails. I can't even really hear much of Armin's influence in this track; if he had presided more over it, the outcome would have been far less flat in its delivery.
Like Golddigger before it, Gypsy has the same vibe, although the beat makes it crackle with a higher tempo. With Ray Wilson, who was featured on one of Armin's previous hits, "Yet Another Day", at the vocal helm, he's definitely one to listen to here while Armin foosters around with grungy bass sweeps throughout. Wilson's lyrics are both poetic and sinister, with this particular passage having some odd meaning: "Lay down on me / Naked gypsy / Watching you bathe in water / False shelter lies / Fear in your eyes / Give me a son and daughter" What exactly is he asking for?! If you have to choose one of the two male-driven introspective tunes on here, go with Gypsy. Ray Wilson's singing just seems less like an emotional leech.
Nadia Ali, formerly of the trance outfit iiO, makes an appearance in the guitar-driven chill trancer Who Is Watching. This one's considered as a classic among Armin's repertoire, but I'm not digging it. I much prefer his uplifting tracks, and this melancholy monster isn't quite it. Most trance-like synths wiggle their way in to try and add atmosphere, but it's not enough to bring this tune past "listenable". Then there's Bounce Back, composed alongside Remy & Roland Klinkenberg. It's a juicy little tidbit of deep house that goes absolutely nowhere. I'm not exactly sure how these two guys contributed to the track to make it better... Oh, wait, I know exactly how: they DIDN'T.
Control Freak is another subdued tune from Armin alone, and although Sander Van Doorn's later remix stole the show, this bass-laden thumper slowly builds up into a mild triumph for the ears. Honestly, this one relies more on layering of pads to provide its energy, rather than a straightforward melody. I can respect that, though it doesn't provide quite the amount of variation I'd want from a trance tune. To close things off, we have Serenity, one of Armin's signature traditional trance bangers, also featuring piano work by Jan Vayne. But while this may start out as (and later morph into again) a classical-sounding tune, it's Armin's squealing synths that end up stealing the show, making this one worth your while as well. Also, hidden after this song is Hymne, the brief epic closer that surprisingly reminds me of his next album, Imagine, and its more extended symphonic introductory track.
Armin van Buuren's Shivers was a noble sophomore effort into creating an album, but too many of the tunes lack a definitive hook or spirit, falling deeper into the category of humdrum with every passing wasted minute. So, my kudos go out to Benno de Goeij for subsequently revealing Armin's true potential... or just masking it in a warm trancey glow.