Looks like it's time for another 1 Listen album review, eh? I'm here to listen to Beauty Behind The Madness, the (now leaked) second studio album from singer/songwriter/producer extraordinaire The Weeknd and the follow-up to 2013's slightly disappointing Kiss Land. My thoughts on Abel are mixed. As an early adopter and Weeknd fan who immediately subscribed to the hype after first hearing House of Balloons, I was so intrigued by the quality of the music, the mystery behind the artist and his pervasive drowning-in-sex-and-drugs narrative, that he grew to become one of my favorite artists. For some reason though, I lost interest in his music over time. I think after some combination of him becoming a public figure, my discouragement after hearing Kiss Land, and the emergence of other artists with similar styles, I just wasn't as interested in hearing new music from The Weeknd.
All of that changed this year. The Universal/Republic hitmaker has been breaking records, establishing himself as the new king of R&B in the process, but that's not why I've renewed my fanship. I saw him live, which certainly helped (he was great), but beyond that I've simply loved his music again. The singles preceding BBTM had me fully back onboard before hearing this album, now it's just a matter of determining whether the album lives up to the singles.
As per 1 Listen rules, I'm not allowed to pause or rewind the album, this is purely my stream-of-consciousness, gut reaction to the album as it plays in its entirety. I'll revisit the album in a few months when I can really measure it's impact. Grab some foreign models and your best drugs, it's time to jump into the album that might solidify The Weeknd as a superstar.
Good lord, right off the bat we start off with a boom. This sounds absolutely epic. Only about :15 seconds in and I'm already 100 times more excited for the album than before I pressed play. Randomly, I'm reminded of the end of Inception when the world is falling apart, that's how epic these synths are. Maybe I'm crazy. There are a lot of layers here, but they sound so great together, nothing but churning and heavenly violins and The Weeknd's crooning and choruses of shouts. This song is so damn triumphant, I don't want it to end.
"Losers" ft. Labrinth
A piano brings us into the void left after the epic opening track. It sounds very "worldly" with the rhythms and percussion here. Okay, someone else just started singing; I looked him up and I see his name is Labrinth. I honestly have no idea who that is, but unfortunately for him, while he may be great, all he's doing right now is taking away from The Weeknd. "Losers" has electronic vibes, but remains very funky. Reminds me of something from The Knocks. This ending is great, something I might describe as "futuristic big band," you know, if that were a thing.
"Tell Your Friends"
Yup, this is Kanye. Good to hear this Ye-produced track not as a rip of a live show. This one is understandably soulful, sounds so much less hollow and distant than most material from The Weeknd. The sound is very rich, but he still retains his sense of detachment. "Poppin' pills, fuckin' bitches." Yup, this is a Weeknd record. Beat breakdown now, such a 'Ye breakdown too. I'd really love to know just how many drugs The Weeknd does, and which ones. Doesn't that break down your vocal chords at some point? Did that happen to Whitney? Am I just making things up? Anyway, electric guitar outros are the new wave, shout out to "Roslin's Basement."
Alright, finally a song I've heard before in studio quality. I really wish the models from the music video were here. DAMN, why have I never listened to this record on incredible speakers? My headphones don't do this song justice, these 808s are making everything okay in life. It's so strange to me that Rick Ross was on the remix of this record, though I wouldn't mind having ScHoolboy's verse on the album version. Oh well.
Alright, I'm awake! The intro always catches me off guard, but good news is I'm completely focused again. You know, this is probably the best example of using screams in a song and them actually improving the record. "I just fucked two bitches 'fore I saw you" has to be my favorite line in the song, which BUMPS by the way. I wonder how much pussy The Weeknd is getting in an average week. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what he's doing right now. I really wish this outro with the pitched-up voices was longer, I could use a whole interlude of that.
Ooooh...this one is bringing me back to House of Balloons-era Abel. I will say, the chorus here sounds a lot like the chorus from "The Hills," interesting that he would choose to put these two back to back (I'M GOING BAAAAACK TO BACK). More sex. He's making these drugs sound pretty enticing right now, I feel like that should be some sort of prerequisite. For instance, maybe they're included in a Deluxe Version or something? I feel like I'm riding one big wave right now, the bass is trying to suck me in but this crooning is lifting me back up. Now a bunch of bubbles are popping, and okay... the mood just shifted. It's dark here. Paranoid. I love it. I'm so sad right now, shout out Yung Lean.
"Can't Feel My Face"
This is a Top 10 song for me (and the rest of the country) right now. I don't care if it's R&B or pop or post-revivalist-alt-chillwave-vaporjazz, take your labels and get out. It's groovy and it's straight audio dope. I wish MJ could be here to jump on a remix of this record. Not Michael Jordan, the other one. Besides the drug references, this is honestly the opposite of what I think of The Weeknd, "...BUT I LOVE IT!!!"
Is that an acoustic guitar?!? I'd love to hear a Weeknd Unplugged, can we make that happen? This one is slow. Too slow, I think. This is the first time I've been a little bored during the album. The electric guitar solo is nice, but other than that I'm eagerly awaiting the next track.
Sounds like a storm's a brewin'. Oh it's just the intro of "Earned It." I was never a huge fan of this record, I think it's because my mother really likes it. Sorry, moms and The Weeknd, but moms and The Weeknd is a terrible combination. I always felt like I should be ballroom dancing to this song. I didn't think he would include this track on the album. I guess it kind of works sonically, but it doesn't mean I'm a fan of the song. Maybe I've just heard it too many times?
"In The Night"
Whoaaaaaaaa this is so '80s right now. It feels like this should be playing in the opening credits of an '80s movie, but in the best way possible. Is this The Police? I'm so frustrated, this reminds me of a song or a band or something and I can't figure out what it is and I probably never will and I'm so disappointed. Maybe it's Michael Jackson? This might be my favorite song so far other than the singles and "Real Life." I really need to hear this one again after I'm done with this review.
"As You Are"
Okay, more '80s vibes. Sounds like this record is going to be slower. Yup, this is bedroom music if I've ever heard it, it's still The Weeknd but with so much warmth, versus his usual cold indifference. It seems like he actually cares about the person he's singing to. I can't help but wonder how many children will be conceived to this song. Damn, the song is fading out, and I'm hoping it's not over yet. It comes back but in a different mood, darker, shifting, more Weeknd-y. Okay, so if the beginning was a passionate lovemaking session, the ending is The Weeknd after the girl has passed out, him standing at the window at 4 AM doing blow and looking out the window comtemplating the emptiness inside. Okay, that got deep.
"Dark Times" ft. Ed Sheeran
Ed. Fucking. Sheeran. I say that in a good way, I'd consider myself a fan but I never expected him on a Weeknd song. Also, I heard that The Weeknd said Ed Sheeran and Waka Flocka had a cypher, so that's awesome. Ed seems like the nicest guy in the world, the kind of guy that you bump into while you're out and they spill their drink and it's totally your fault but they're the one who apologizes and says, "Don't worry about it man, I was just about to get another one!" Oh, you want me to talk about the song? Honestly, not my favorite. I can see it being popular though. If these are dark times, I want darker times. They should have called this "Light Times."
"Prisoner" ft. Lana Del Rey
This one creeps in like a fog, very atmospheric. Jesus, that drop just smacked me in the face, it's very nice. Oh look, Lana Del Rey shows up to shower her melancholy all over the room. Lana Del Rey is always riding with her woes, but in a much more literal sense. The beat over the hook warps my brain just about every time it hits. I imagine the recording of this song was just Lana and The Weeknd staring deep into the hollowness of each other's eyes, wanting to cry, but the emotion is gone so they just stand in desondent silence. Don't get me wrong, I'm fully onboard the Pain Train.
I'm sweating. This has been a long ride, BUT, this song starts off TRIUMPHANT. I feel like the first song was similar, before plunging us through the dark depravity of The Weeknd's existence for the length of an album, and now "Angel" is here to lift us to salvation. This one is almost EDM-esque, in a good way, but I can already picture the David Guetta remix featuring someone like Sia. Here's an uncredited female vocalist, my God if that's actually Sia I will laugh. I don't think it is. It's not. I couldn't think of a more perfect outro, and this is going to close out quite a few concerts in epic fashion.
All in all, Beauty Behind The Madness is a great album. The Weeknd may never have actually fallen off, but he had for me personally. It doesn't matter now, because he has cohesive project on his hands that reaches the level of quality I had expected and hoped for with his debut. He's come so much further than that though, and you can tell he's expanded his influences and honed his songwriting skills, moving forward and progressing as an artist without losing the core qualities that everyone fell in love with the first time around. The Weeknd is running R&B right now, and this album is the body of work to back up that claim. Sure, it had a few tracks that won't be getting much play from yours truly, but despite the lows, the highs are especially HIGH (pun only slightly intended).
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to play it back from the top.
[By Brendan Varan. He can't feel his face, or his fingers. Follow him on Twitter.]