The production on The Weeknd’s latest full length album, Beauty Behind the Madness, is really expensive and slick. Not to say that any pop song produced on a high budget really pays off, but this album, like Sia’s latest work, 1000 Forms Of Fear, combines an epic style of mainstream production with some real class and lush instrumentation. Abel Tesfaye, the man behind the moniker, has proven in the past that he has great taste in beats and knows how to work a melody.
His depressing, yet somehow sexy 2012 mixtape Echoes of Silence proved he has an appreciation for atmosphere and moodiness. That project was replete with bleak sexual encounters, hazy marijuana references, and occasionally self deprecating tales of forlorn love. Since that standout release from Tesfaye, he has seemed to return to the shallow lyricism of his first two mixtapes. He did this without sparing great instrumentals, but the words he was singing portrayed a blatantly misogynist angle on relationships, one night stands, and hookups in general.
On this latest record from The Weeknd, I find myself really enjoying Tesfaye’s voice and the beats he’s singing over, but essentially, the lyrical content makes me hate his personality. He seems like the type of guy that uses women and is so confident in his sex appeal that he can just walk all over anyone. The really sickening part is that the “too cool for school, not giving a shit” persona he goes for really just comes across as arrogance and spiteful debauchery. On the track “Tell Your Friends,” Tesfaye sings about his newfound openness in regards to sharing various drug and sex filled stories with everyone. This is a song that perfectly exemplifies my love/hate relationship with his songs. On the one hand, he’s a dick, but on the other hand, his voice is fantastic, the production utilizes the piano melody gorgeously, and there’s even some electric guitar in the mix. I’m conflicted by the contrast heard between the mean-spirited vocals and the beautiful music.
I liked a bulk of this album, despite his personality. I can’t help but be overcome by the epic hooks in songs like “Often” and “The Hills.” The latter is especially crass, yet the hook is booming and intense. With the sub bass and the scream sample, I find my head slowly nodding and even closing my eyes to further immerse myself in its resonance. Songs like “Acquainted” also catch my interest for this reason. Although I grew to love Tesfaye’s go at disco with the danceable single “Can’t Feel My Face,” it sticks out like a sore thumb. The singles on this album, including the infamous “Earned It”, just feel awkwardly stuffed into the track list.
The record kind of bounces around genres, including electronic based trap beats, electro pop, and disco. This makes it a bit of a disjointed listening experience. I also think the Weeknd cops the style of french house artist Stromae’s music on the song “Losers.” He does it well, but it’s just not really his sound. The features are overshadowed by Tesfaye himself, so much so that it makes me wonder why Lana Del Rey and Ed Sheeran were even included on this album. There are a handful of songs that just feel kind of soft for this mostly sad and night-timey record, like “In The Night.” The track “Shameless” also sounds almost identical to the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way.” I was, however, able to get into this project a little bit because of the catchy hooks, the sleek stylized instrumentals, and Tesfaye’s angelic voice. Despite that, what held this album back from being more enjoyable was the inclusion of certain innocuous dance tunes and an overall scattered flow.
Written by Luke Sherman