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
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
The Zone and Rolling Stone. Alas, the frequency of convincing hooks had
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)
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".
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) 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.
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