Abél Tesafaye’s rise to fame with ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ has certainly not been a boring one. Those who have looked on and followed THE WEEKND‘s trajectory from early efforts, such as ‘House of Balloons’ and ‘Echoes of Silence’, will know that musically, to say he’s come a long way is an understatement.
Whether the distance travelled between then and now has been beneficial, is questionable. It’s undisputable that his recent material is more commercially viable, gaining incredible amounts of chart success with first ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ and more recently both ‘Starboy’ and ‘False Alarm’, but it’s come with somewhat of a sacrifice.
For a man with an enviable vocal range, whose vocal capabilities are no longer being pushed – or even really used to half their capacity – in favour for high amounts of auto-tune… there’s a definitive lack of ambition and adventure. There’s nothing in the album – screaming and wailing in ‘False Alarm aside – to really make you sit up and pay attention.
Tesafaye’s talents as a producer cannot be argued with, however; throughout the LP the production to each track mostly sees him at his best. It’s just a shame that as a package it feels clumsy, lost and lacking a real sense of direction. Attempting to play to the new levels of fame that his recent tracks have brought him, whilst also endeavouring to retain the artistic levels of his earlier work, has resulted in an album that does neither.
Opener and lead track ‘Starboy’ is, by all means, an assured statement of intent for the whole concept of the album. The 80’s infused beat patterns are appealing to a point and all in all, the track individually isn’t entirely offensive. ‘Reminder’ serves as a literal reminder of The Weeknd that we once loved and held high hopes for, particularly through lyrics referencing the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award he won for a track which as we know, is about lots of drugs: “’I just won a new award for a kids show / Talking ’bout a face coming off a bag a blow.’” ‘Rockin’’ is a track that’s pretty regressive in terms of its production, evoking haphazard memories of house music from many moons ago, whilst also answering the question: “What would it sound like if Justin Timberlake threw himself into R’n’B?”
Following the questionable, yet unsurprising involvement of fellow melodramatic royalty Lana Del Ray on the interlude, ‘Sidewalks’ sees Kendrick Lamar pop his head in, cementing The Weeknd’s new star-filled lifestyle. The confident and relaxed, nineties reminiscent beat wins all the awards here, though, a job well done. Fans of The Weeknd’s MJ impression won’t be disappointed either, as tracks ‘True Colours’, ‘Die For You’ and of course, the album closer ‘I Feel It Coming’ see Tesafaye’s falsetto shine through in the most poptastic ways. Particularly in ‘I Feel It Coming’ a track that Daft Punk really sunk their teeth into and is now being coined as possibly the best single of the year OR decade by The Independent, a bit of a stretch, but somewhat understandable.
The Weeknd was once an artist who produced music with multiple layers of emotion, both lyrically, vocally and in production, but somewhere along the way that has been lost, though that’s not to say it can’t be found once more, right? Similarly, an involvement in this album would be something that the Daft Punk of a few years ago would have laughed at… but now look at them. As an album Starboy is a signifier that The Weeknd has a lot of ideas, hasn’t settled on a direction and maybe needs a cuddle.