The Weeknd’s new album, After Hours, has surpassed Billie Eilish for the most pre-adds on Apple Music, ever. Whilst breaking records with a cohesively cinematic body of synths and bulletproof pop, last decade’s original sad-boy has wound up sounding like a broken record. The record shows his ability to consistently produce an emotionally intuitive response to contemporary hip-hop all the while creating a church like pop, middle aged mothers like mine, absolutely dig.
What made 975,000 eager fans pre-add this album? The simple answer is that the two singles, “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights”, caused serious hype; acquiring Platinum status before the album’s release. The intro to “Blinding Lights” pricks the ears with nostalgia and covers the ankles in leg warmers: I thought it was a sample of Take On Me by A-ha. The song is about The Weeknd calling out to a past love to help him sleep at night where as “Heartless” is the opposite in message, as the opening lyric demonstrates: “Never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch need”. Trap-induced fuck boy-ery.
Listening to Saturday and Sunday’s graceful choirboy sing over the climactic chorus of sounds from Close Encounters of The Third Kind, it is hard not to notice the influence of Tame Impala’s powerful orchestration on this album. From the compressed vocals that reverberate melancholy into your soul to the jelly-like futuristic keyboards that add colour to The Weeknd’s bright youthful voice; if there was a world soundtracked by Kevin Parker, Abel’s distinct sound would dominate the clubs. That is where conceptually this album succeeds; assuming the phrase After Hours is all about post-club-fuck-boy desires and regrets, the beats do echo slightly muted club tracks.
On the opening track “Alone Again” we hear The Weeknd’s voice creeping out of the darkness, as if he were watching from the back as his partner for the night danced with another. This sad scene grows from Tracks 1 to 3 on which the drum and bass strobes of “Hardest To Love” hold back on drums to let Abel’s voice ballad over the top of the club bass. The same dark grace that made Grimes, the Queen of that sound.
On “Snowchild” and “Escape From LA” The Weeknd brings a heavy heart to the often emotionally repressed trap sound. In response to the cold world of wearing diamond jewellery, “Snowchild” starts “I used to pray when I was sixteen//If I didn’t make it then I’d probably make my wrist bleed” moving on to ‘frozen’ wrists not long after. His depth is remarkable and shows love is more valuable than money on “Escape From LA”:
“Cause I got everything I wanted
Got the money, got the cars, got the ceiling with the stars
Got everything I wanted
But I’d be nothing without you”
Is this emotional depth contradictory to the following track “Heartless”, or just the kind of paradoxical thoughts that starts when the club wears off? As the record rolls on The Weeknd begins to own the sound. “Faith”, a song about drug addiction and ending up in the back of a “flashing car”, sounds strong and optimistic. “Blinding Lights” is the tip of this Electro-pop iceberg that hopefully Abel will show more of as the years to come.
Bank Holiday Weeknd
In 2012, The Weeknd rereleased three mixtapes together to create an extremely successful and widely influential aesthetic: his high-reaching vocal talents and catchy hooks balanced the heavy Clams Casino/XXYYXX electro RnB of 2011, accurately conveying contemporary narratives and moods; narcotic indulgence, horniness, loneliness and the solemn pop-star’s favourite, the drudgery of ‘the party life’. A hard act to follow. This new album has been polished with maturity to create a distinct sound at the expense of purifying out the potential for grooves like “The Morning” and “Earned It”.
Unfortunately though where there was once confidence in changes to tempo and rhythm, style and features it feels as if there is confusion in the direction as he goes from House, to Drum n Bass, to Trap in three songs all carried under the heavy veil of the electric synthesiser, without any features or adventurous turns. When he spans those three genres, they are all different, but simultaneously sound the same. As Joe Budden said on a podcast at the end of March “there’s a good track on there but it wasn’t good enough to have it 8/9 times over”.
So news flash: The Weeknd is still sad. He’s found his power pop and it is good. But not too good.
AFTER HOURS TRACKLISTING:
1. Alone Again
2. Too Late
3. Hardest To Love
4. Scared To Live
6. Escape From LA
9. Blinding Lights
10. In Your Eyes
11. Save Your Tears
12. Repeat After Me (Interlude)
13. After Hours
14. Until I Bleed Out