The Weeknd

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
House of Balloons (2011), 6.5/10
Echoes of Silence (2011), 5/10
Thursday (2011), 6/10
Kiss Land (2013), 5/10
Beauty Behind the Madness (2015), 4.5/10
Starboy (2016), 4/10
After Hours (2020), 6/10
Dawn FM (2022), 4.5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Weeknd, the project of Toronto's crooner Abel Tesfaye, bursts on the stage of high-tech soul music with a trilogy of mixtapes produced by Doc McKinney and Illangelo. The nine ballads of House of Balloons (2011), with the exception of the one uptempo number, House of Balloons (also the standout), succeed best when the soundscape upsets the narrative (as in the seven-minute The Party & the After Party), when the sounds create contradictory textures (What You Need) and when the choreography prevails over the quivering falsetto The Morning. Coupled with Tesfaye's stories of sex and drugs (Wicked Games in particular), the music actually hints at an acute state of loneliness.

The sense of loneliness rules reigns supreme over the psychological gems of Thursday (2011): Thursday, The Zone and Rolling Stone. Alas, the frequency of convincing hooks had declined dramatically.

Echoes of Silence (2011) indulged in depravity for the sake of provoking (Initiation, XO / The Host): when a pop star runs out of ideas, all he has to do to keep being talked about is to insult everybody's intelligence. However, the stark and naked Montreal, Echoes of Silence, Same Old Song and Next replicated the sense of failure that permeated the previous mixtape. Sex had never sounded so macabre and suicidal. Clams Casino produced the most musical piece, The Fall.

The three mixtapes were compiled on Trilogy (2012).

The brainy production of the mixtapes was greatly simplified on his first studio album, Kiss Land (2013), produced by Daniel "DannyBoyStyles" Schofield, although the main features survived in the best songs (Professional, Kiss Land, The Town): anguished vocals, dark lyrics about sex and drugs, creepy soundscapes, melancholic electronics, booming beats. His mentor Drake ruins Live For.

Beauty Behind the Madness (2015), a sellout to mainstream pop, started sounding like a revival of Phil Collins' romantic balladry. Much of the album is junk, but Can't Feel My Face (produced by Max Martin), The Hills (a new collaboration with Illangelo) and Tell Your Friends (co-written by Che Pope and Kanye West) are tolerable.

Michael Jackson was a better reference for the lame ballads of Starboy (2016). Starboy and I Feel It Coming are the ones to save.

The six-song EP My Dear Melancholy (2018) marked a brief return to the darker and brainier style of his "trilogy".

Max Martin again architected his hit single Blinding Lights (2019).

His gloomy ballads met slick productions by famous hit-makers like Metro Boomin and Max Martin on After Hours (2020), which also reinstated a bit of aesthetic purpose. The facile synth-pop of Blinding Lights (a rip-off of A-ha's Take on Me which became one of his biggest hits) and In Your Eyes is counterbalanced by the moodier six-minute pieces After Hours and Escape from LA and by the sophisticated Scared to Live and Save Your Tears (another Max Martin creation, the biggest hit of 2021).

Dawn FM (2022), produced by Max Martin and Oneohtrix Point Never, was his "disco revival" album, heavy on the electronic arrangements. It was also a concept album with Jim Carrey’s silly radio commentary interspersed throughout the album. (A funny concept: purgatory is a traffic jam and while you wait you listen to a radio station run by comedian Jim Carrey). Abel Tesfaye arrives at the 1980s revival about ten years later, after everybody else has already aped the stars of synth-pop, but he also ventures a bit further in time to the age of disco-music. And so Depeche Mode inspire Gasoline, the Pet Shop Boys could have made How Do I Make You Love Me? (as a B-side at best), and the catchy singalong Less Than Zero (the best of the bunch) sounds like a cover of his own Save Your Tears done by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The hit Take My Breath harks further back in time, to Giorgio Moroder's disco locomotives, while the electronic funk of Sacrifice rapes a more recent act, Daft Punk. His more congenial soul ballads are few and mostly filler, no matter how elaborate the electronic arrangement (Every Angel Is Terrifying, Is There Someone Else?, Out of Time) with the exception of Best Friends, the best intimate architecture.

In 2023 a song titled Heart on My Sleeve, credited to Drake and The Weeknd, went viral on streaming services; but it had been generated with a software program; proof not of the computer's intelligence but of how easy it was to create Drake and Weeknd songs.

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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