Artists are always complaining about how hard it is to break through, but I don’t see...
DJBooth Album Review
In the almost six months since The Weeknd released their breakthrough album House of Balloons we’ve managed to learn a few things about the enigmatic entity that Drake helped catapult to fame. First, despite the plural-sounding name, The Weeknd is just one guy, Abel Tesfaye; although literally everything he does is produced by Doc McKinney and Illangelo, so in a way Weeknd is really a band with a lead singer and two producers. You know what? Don’t sweat it, moving on. With Balloons still fresh in the iPods of music connoisseurs everywhere the not-a-group has released their sophomore set Thursday, an album that proves two things. One, their early success was no accident, there’s really something to be taken seriously here. And two, they might just do for prescription drugs and ill-advised sex what T-Pain did for auto-tune.
We might as well get to the good stuff. As much as haters worldwide were secretly hoping that the much anticipated collaboration with Drake would fall flat, there’s just no getting around it: The Zone is a really, really good song. Abel’s ethereal voice floats over a gauzy instrumental that beats with just a hint of danger, and the addition of Drizzy’s verse keeps the track anchored to Earth without dragging it down. It’s a refreshingly (un)sober take on the R&B slow jam plus rap verse formula, and like most of Thursday it doesn’t hit you over the head as much as it slowly sucks you in. A better example of the album’s nacrotically hypnotic effect is Birds Pt. 2, a song that repeatedly threatens to build into a climax but never does, leaving the listener addictively pressing replay, hoping that this time will be the fix they’ve been looking for. Sorry Budden, but this is truly mood music.
Ok, so here’s where I take some Quaaludes and become a bit of a downer. (I’m not actually taking Ludes, but after 48 straight hours of The Weeknd everything’s become a drug reference.) As with any artist that skyrockets to (relative) fame this quickly, the question of longevity has to be raised. There are plenty of reasons to think that, barring an Amy Winehouse-esque downfall, we’ll be hearing from Abel for years to come, but I have my doubts. First, I just wasn’t as blown away by Thursday as I was by House of Balloons. The first time around I hadn’t heard anything like The Weeknd’s brand of hazy, quietly self-destructive R&B before, but the moment I pressed play on Thursday my surroundings were instantly familiar. We’re not close to the music growing stale, but will even Codeine-fueled orgies get old with enough repetition? Second, and perhaps more importantly, Abel’s just not a very good lyricist. His music relies so heavily on atmosphere and mood that the actual words matter even less than usual, but there’s just no getting around the fact The Weeknd’s lyrical output can be snack time (elementary). Case in point, the chorus to title track Thursday: “Not on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday / Sunday but on Thursday Thursday / Ohhhh on Thursday, baby get ready ohhh on Thursday / Woaahoooh hold it ohh on Thursday, just wait on Thursday.” So just to clarify, Thursday works for you? It’s easy to forget that Abel’s only 21. He’s got plenty of time to mature as a songwriter, but for now there’s no question that for the music to go to the next level, Abel’s going to have to up his pen game. (Just look what a great voice and some great lyrics did for the similarly dark and drugged Frank Ocean.)
To play the devil’s advocate to the devil’s advocate I just played, Thursday does shown a sonic growth from House of Balloons. It even dares – gasp – to up the tempo, bringing in a rapid fire hi-hat to propel the hook of Life of the Party and giving Heaven or Las Vegas a multi-instrument, layered sound we hadn’t heard from them before. With those added complexities they’ve officially raised their ceiling to “The-Dream at his most f**ked up” levels, but it’s far too early to know whether they’ll reach that ceiling. In the meantime, I recommend relaxing and enjoying the ride. And if you’re having trouble relaxing don’t worry – I’m sure The Weeknd could give you something for that.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 08/25/11
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"The Morning" (2011)
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