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In April 2018, Grammy Nominated Swedish DJ Tim Bergling committed suicide. You probably knew him as Avicii. You also probably loved him for his huge catalog of singles and work with artists from Coldplay and David Guetta to Wyclef Jean.
Weeks after his death, reports confirmed his suicide, and the world got closer to understanding this sad ending to one of the world’s biggest artists. He’d toured the world, retired at 26, struggled with depression, and lost to some terrible inner demon.
There have been three Avicii album releases. Only, as of earlier today, it seems he’s going to release a fourth. “Tim”, with a single coming out on April 10th. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be discussing in today’s article: the proud, sometimes contentious tradition of posthumous albums.
The Posthumous Avicii Album
Death. It’s something that comes to everyone, famous or not. But, with people who create for a living, death can mean something very different to the rest of us. If they die in the middle of a project, there’s always a chance relatives or friends might finish their work.
This isn’t a new idea. Writers have been published after their deaths for generations. JRR Tolkien has had exactly 30 books published since his death in 1973. His family, various editors and other authors combed through his notes and assembled full books from them.
And musicians are no different. With live recordings going on albums, Nirvana has released more albums since Kurt Cobain died than they did when he was actually alive. Tupac released material after he died, as did Jim Morrison, Jeff Buckley, and Jimi Hendrix. Lemi, from Motorhead, still has a solo album coming out, though the date is yet to be confirmed, and he’s been gone for four years by this point.
The point is, you don’t have to be alive to release material. But the question that seems to come up every time something like this happens: are posthumous albums a cheap trick to cash in or one last opportunity for the world to enjoy its best artists?
Life After Death?
Before we talk about the arguments against posthumous release, let’s start by clearing one thing up: Avicii’s last album will be made up from work he created. Sounds, songs, ideas and concepts he was in the process of creating when he committed suicide. His co-creators and collaborators will be completing the album for him. And proceeds from the sales will be going to “the Tim Bergling Foundation, which focuses on supporting people and organizations in the field of mental illness and suicide prevention.”
So, it’s not like the album’s doing anything dishonorable by coming out. Authentic Avicii music being released by the people who worked with him on this sort of thing, with money from the same going to suicide prevention. What’s not to be okay with?
There are some people, however, who don’t agree with this kind of production. NME writer, Lisa Wright, once said about posthumous Kurt Cobain releases: “Imagine if, after you died, someone tracked the recycle bin on your laptop, erased all those half-drafted emails and to-do lists and showed it to all your family and friends. A novel that sounded great in the sleep-deprived corners of 3 a.m. That’s right there That photo session of drunken self-portraits that you decided to do when you got home on a Saturday night? That’s there too. You wrote to your boss and then you realized it was a terrible, terrible move? Oh yes.”
And, as cynical as it sounds, she’s kind of right. There’s no telling what someone who passes away unexpectedly would have done with an unfinished piece of work. Not everything that a creator creates is something they want to release. Because the big bad secret is, if you’re going to create something really good, you’re going to create five things that suck. Often, things that really suck.
The creative process is difficult, and anybody who claims to get their writing right the first time is either lying or made a deal with the devil at the crossroads at midnight. Wright continued: “Our lives are a series of drafts, rewrites and final versions. We test things in our heads or in private before refining the ideas that we are pleased to present in the world to represent us. The fact that there is a set of drafts or demonstrations in the world does not mean that they exist for the world.”
Just because someone known for their artistic works says “What if I recorded my next album entirely with cat noises?” into a microphone before they died doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. So what good reason could there be to release this kind of thing? Why doesn’t every John Lennon burn “Milk and Honey” the second they find it in a used record store?
Well, that example might be a bad one because I’m told they do, but here’s the retort, anyway!
The Case For Genius
For someone who loves an artist to get more of their work after they die, the real gift isn’t in getting more of the treats they love best. It’s in getting every last drop of their genius, whether or not that genius had a chance to be refined.
The things that go into a posthumous Avicii album aren’t accidents. Aviciii didn’t accidentally sit down at a keyboard and record a set of fifty riffs that someone else tripped over and cobbled together into something completely random. He committed ideas to data in the weeks and months and years before his death and, following a very tragic suicide, his computer was left open to his friends and family.
The same goes for Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar parts or unused verses that Pac recorded. These people took the time to record their work because it was good and they knew it. They just never had the time to refine it.
It’s not strange or a violation of privacy because these people made their music their job. If someone tried to publish Avicii’s diary (in the sad, uncomfortable way they did with Kurt Cobain’s diaries) it would be uncomfortable. Why? Because we don’t need to know what Tim Bergling thought about the latest season of Stranger Things or what he was going to be getting at the grocery store.
But we wanted to hear his music. We entered into a contract with him to hear his stuff, and even after Tim Bergling quit touring, we waited for more Avicii. Because music means something to us, regardless of genre and age. We wait, year after year, to make more connections with more music.
So, is it alright to use Avicii’s files to create something new from his old sound files and drum patterns? No. But only because he should have been here doing it for us. The passing of an influential musician is always sad, and none of Avicii’s fans were ready when he passed away.
But history is a story chiseled in stone. And Avicii killed himself on April 20th, 2018. And the fact that there was enough left over for producers to pick up and create something new is amazing. It means something to the people who loved his music, his family has sanctioned it, and the charity it benefits. Which, given that it benefits a charity for suicide prevention, means a lot.
Be sure to check back in with DangerPedia for our official review once the Avicii album is up!