As the primary half of his fifth album attracts to shut with a observe referred to as Right here We Go … Once more – a stunning, beatless ballad blessed with a chord development that recollects the Love Limitless Orchestra’s elegant 1973 hit Love’s Theme – Abel Tesfaye permits himself a second of self-congratulation. He hymns his look on the duvet of Billboard journal at first of final 12 months, suited and booted, smoking a cigar, surrounded by his “kinfolk”: “Catalogue trying legendary … now we’re cruising on a yacht, we clear.”
By the top of final 12 months, Tesfaye – or somewhat his alter ego, the Weeknd – was on the duvet of Billboard once more, accompanying a function that provided an oral historical past of the making of Dawn FM’s predecessor, After Hours. Full with quotes from mates, producers, document firm bosses and the tailor who made the fits he wore within the movies, it was the sort of celebration that usually seems in heritage rock magazines and is reserved for august basic albums. However then, After Hours’ largest hit, Blinding Lights, had simply dethroned Chubby Checker’s deathless 1962 smash The Twist as the highest Billboard 100 single of all time, a designation primarily based on complete weeks on the US chart and the positions held throughout that point.
He was already vastly profitable earlier than After Hours got here out however the triumph of Blinding Lights – its mixture of melancholy and dancefloor propulsion the proper complement to the distress and craving for escapism engendered by the pandemic – elevated Tesfaye to much more rarified heights. And Dawn FM may be very a lot the type of factor you would possibly launch had you latterly been formally topped an all-time nice.
It’s a idea album of kinds, with some lofty concepts concerning the afterlife that appear to be certain up with present affairs and knowledgeable by lockdown. “You’ve been at nighttime for manner too lengthy, it’s time to step into the sunshine,” affords the opening title observe, whereas its description of what awaits us within the hereafter (“now that every one future plans have been postponed”) might simply as simply be a description of the hedonistic nirvana of the dancefloor: “Quickly you’ll be healed, forgiven and refreshed, free from all trauma, ache, guilt and disgrace – it’s possible you’ll even neglect your title.”
The album comes studded with star company that say one thing about its writer’s standing. The inter-track narration is offered by Jim Carrey; Quincy Jones rocks up six tracks in, discussing his mom’s psychological sickness and the impact it had on his relationships; Right here We Go… Once more improbably unites Tyler, the Creator and 79-year-old Seashore Boy Bruce Johnston; the manufacturing staff pitches collectively Max Martin, Swedish Home Mafia and leftfield digital auteur Oneohtrix Level By no means. And its references appear to put its writer in a lineage of musical greats: apart from Right here We Go… Once more’s suggestion of Barry White, the concluding Phantom Remorse By Jim nods to each Prince and Marc Bolan.
However essentially the most noticeable factor about Dawn FM is how easy and assured it feels, as if Tesfaye has been bolstered somewhat than cowed by its predecessor’s success. Brilliantly written, produced and sung, it affords the fascinating sound of an artist who is aware of he’s on the high of his recreation, at a blissful level at which each melody sticks, and each manufacturing thought works simply so. It doesn’t hassle cravenly chasing the success of Blinding Lights – though Much less Than Zero, which marries that observe’s clipped beat and retro electronics to an acoustic guitar and excellent refrain, is a big hit single in ready. And it delves additional into the fascination with the 80s that Tesfaye first explored on the mixtapes that kickstarted his profession, with their samples of Unhealthy-era Michael Jackson and Kaleidoscope-era Siouxsie and the Banshees.
This curiosity finds its expression all through, from a second half solely consisting of mid-tempo tracks influenced by 80s R&B – uniformly stunning songs that by no means slip into pastiche – to the title of Much less Than Zero (presumably a reference to Brett Easton Ellis’s epochal 1985 novel of moneyed, coke-numbed indifference, somewhat than the Elvis Costello track about Oswald Mosley from which the e-book swiped its title). Certainly, Tesfaye’s curiosity within the period of the “second British invasion” is such that he sometimes communicates icy hauteur by slipping into an English accent, which ranges from gentle intonation to what you would possibly name the complete Dick Van Dyke, on Don’t Break My Coronary heart and Gasoline.
That’s a uncommon jarring second on an album so effectively finished that it’s exhausting to select highlights, though Out of Time is a notably beautiful ballad, and the second when the wracked electro of How Do I Make You Love Me? segues into Take My Breath – 5 and half euphoric minutes of disco-house, with a riff that recollects Daft Punk’s Da Funk – is pulse-quickening.
College students of the customarily vexed relationship between pop stars and the personae they inhabit might word that, after the Weeknd was depicted bloodied and bandaged on his final album cowl, Dawn FM photos him prematurely wizened and gray, as if his previous excesses have caught up with him. Fairly what that picture is meant to imply isn’t clear however somebody minded to choose holes would possibly counsel that the lyrics that persist with the Weeknd’s basic topics – creepy abusive relationships, overconsumption and jaded small-hours decadence – are beginning to sound as outdated because the character seems. The one flaw in Dawn FM is that the imagery within the album’s opening tracks feels very well-worn: “I wrap my fingers round your throat you like it once I all the time squeeze”; “It’s 5am, I’m nihilist”; “You’re providing your self to me like a sacrifice”, and many others, and many others.
Then once more, possibly it’s meant to indicate maturity born out of bitter expertise. There’s a sure narrative arc to the songs, impartial of the stuff concerning the afterlife, that sees the Weeknd go from erotic asphyxiation and hoofing up medication to feeling wounded that one of his conquests is dishonest on her husband with him (“I heard you’re married, woman, and I hate it,” he sings, the damaging picture of the cokey hedonism of I Can’t Really feel My Face), then pleading for affection and panicking that he’s caught: “I don’t need to be a prisoner to who I was”.
Maybe it’s speculated to be taken at the side of the album’s afterlife theme, a suggestion that the character is reaching the top of the road and that Tesfaye – who has talked in interviews about desirous to “take away the Weeknd from the world” – intends to maneuver on. If that’s true, Dawn FM is a unbelievable approach to bow out: 2020s pop music so brilliantly crafted that it causes you to grasp how a lot different 2020s pop music is makeweight.