Along with the more readily mainstream-accessible Frank Ocean, The Weeknd is one of the first r’n’b acts to emerge out of nowhere on the internet and prove to critics of the much-maligned (undeservedly) genre that there’s more to it than sung (sometimes autotuned) lecherous hit ons and bad double entendres. Just 5 months ago they released House of Balloons, their first mixtape, to instant critical acclaim. It would be cruel to say that in such a short duration they’d be hit with sophomore slum, but it would also be closer to accurate than we’d like it to be.
Thursday isn’t a bad release per se, it’s not really, but there’s a sense that The Weeknd could reach stagnation even before it reaches the peak. The album is a natural continuation of the mood that singer Abel Tesfaye and his team of producers established with the previous release – that of the smoky and gloomy aftermath of late night parties. All the right ingredients to what made House of Balloons such a critical darling are here in full effect. Abel’s recognisably modern r’n’b male voice filtered through drug-addled Brit rockstar personality, Doc McKinney’s and Illangelo’s dark atmospheric beats, and lyrical content that is both typically Lothario r’n’b and grungely depressing (“you’re the life of the party,” could easily be a line from a plaid shirt-wearing suicidal frontman of a grunge band).
This would suggest an equally good follow-up, unfortunately Abel sometimes revels in excesses a bit too much here, just like how he it is with drugs if his words on the songs were to be trusted. 6 of the 9 tracks are over 5 minutes long, even the shorter tracks can sound a bit of a chore to go through due to The Weeknd’s penchant for sprawling r’n’b ballads. ‘The Zone’, which goes up to nearly the 7 minute mark, could easily be shorten if Drake’s verse was cut, which brings us to another interesting point; despite what we thought, the collaboration doesn’t work nearly as well as fans might have expected.
‘Gone’, another expansive epic that is even longer (a whopping 8 minutes), plays up to Abel’s weakness (or sometimes strength) worse. To use an appropriately themed metaphor, imagine being forced to listen to the rants of a guy who’s too caught up with how screwed up his life is at a boring party. Fortunately, even when the songs go on for far too long and Abel’s lyrical content comes off as blasÃ©, the production work on the album is still as sombrely gorgeous as ever.
There’s more variety to the sound here, unlike its predecessor where only the Siouxsie and the Banshees-sampling title track broke the album’s one-note production. Cleverly named ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’ features screechy effects and echos, ‘Life of the Party’ plays up to ominous guitar riffs, and how the best track on the record ‘Rolling Stone’ segues to the next track is something you just have to listen for yourself.
As with most exciting music acts in the internet age, The Weeknd is always under the scrutiny of critics and fans alike. There’s pressure to display scepticism to the latest buzz bands, and the first sign of their missteps is wont to be overblown as a sign of hack-dom. There’s palpable disappointment with the new record, but not enough for us to denounce The Weeknd.
Listen to this: ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Life of a Party’, ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’
If you like this you’ll dig: Frank Ocean, the XX, Drake, The-Dream
Download the album for free at www.the-weeknd.com.
1. Lonely Star
2. Life of the Party
4. The Zone
5. The Birds Part 1
6. The Birds Part 2
7. Rolling Stone
9. Heaven or LasÂ Vegas