The Weeknd is our most noteworthy contemporary R&B artist, perhaps outshining Frank Ocean on sheer quantitative output. I discovered the Weeknd just like anyone currently over the age of 14- from Drake. He jumped onboard a track for the Weeknd’s second mixtape, Thursday, after his first one absolutely decimated the underground blogosphere. Unlike other web-only buzz artists, the Weeknd’s first release was unequivocally phenomenal. In other words, he deserved the direct shot to fame.
Appropriately so, it did not exactly work like that. His major studio debut, Kissland, lacked a certain something (accessibility, most likey) to appease the Katy Perry swalloing mainstream. So when the Weeknd began appearing on tours alongside Justin Timberlake and dropping verses with Arianna Grande, you knew someone was putting a lot of bankroll into making the Weeknd’s gorgeous and sexy warble worth something- and it paid off. The Beauty Behind the Madness is every bit the Weeknd rolled into an accessible tasty format for all ages.
This is not to say his lyriccs have been fully toned down. He still doesn’t want to love or be loved. He will still give a girl everything she wants in bed only after he is satisfied. He only calls a quarter after 1, and he gets two girls at once not just in his one-bedroom apartment, but in his leased loft. The Weeknd is borderline a caricature only explored in Childish Gambino-esque web video series. But this time around his work is more expensive, shinier, and a little less intoxicating. This is the Weeknd for the fun moms and the promiscuous teens.
In the Night is the most eccentrically pop tune on the album. Reminiscent of R&B’s most deliberate crossover moments of the late 2000’s, the track pulsates with absolutely floor-dropping hook. It invalidates any fan cry that the Weeknd has gone too pop for his own good. It’s arguable whether it is any better than one of Thursday’s drug-infused moodscapes or Echoes of Silence’s “coming down from the high” contemplation ballads, but it is certainly more fun. Losers has probably the most fun lead synth melody on the whole album- a desirable tasty treat of grandiosity. One problem is a bit outside the album. He (the label) tends to overuse a lot of tracks which appeared elsewhere, such as Earned It from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack or Often, released as an independent single over a year before the album release and just recycled and adopted into the current record. Its arguably a bit lazy, made worse by the fact these tunes are humdrum Weeknd- him at his most passive.
He does try for ambiant reflection and highly textured atmosphere on As I Am and Shameless. They are songs Weeknd fans from the mixtape days will appreciate, but not enough to make up for the almost absurdly catchy I Can’t Feel My Face, which could have easily been a holdover for the new Rihanna album. Ed Sheeran pops up in a track so lumbering and forgettable I forgot the title twice before I completed this sentence.
Which is perhaps the Achilles Heel of the Weeknd post-Kissland. That respective record was a bit too experimental to hit the mainstream. The overlong tracks weaved in and out like a strong buzz, and the Beauty Behind the Madness shows what the Weeknd sounds like commercialized and watered down. Both of these things are true. The fantastic duality is that this is where the Weeknd likely belongs. Its a stage needed to get him to a creative independence. When no one buys albums anymore, you need Ed Sheeren to do his thing.