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The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’ fortifies his reign as king of sexy, wicked misery

The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’ fortifies his reign as king of sexy, wicked misery

The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’ fortifies his reign as king of sexy, wicked misery
March 26
14:00 2020

The brooding and mysterious Starboy is back and this time he’s alone again.

The complexity of The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) is plain to see across his discography, built on the contrast of being sad yet detached, emotional but indifferent, pained yet careless. Naturally, he weaves this throughout his new 14-track breakup album “After Hours.” There’s a certain nonchalance infused into his melancholy as he sings about drugs on “Faith” and being straight-up heartless on “Heartless.” But this album sees the Weeknd arguably more vulnerable than he’s ever been — and it’s one of his strongest albums because of it.

In a similar vain to his lyrical contrast, the Weeknd plays around with his sound. The slick, sexy R&B sound of his earlier albums ventured into dark pop on “Kiss Land” and “The Beauty Behind the Madness,” and then morphed into the Daft Punk-inspired sound of “Starboy.” In “After Hours,” we see less of a contrast and more of a fusing of his previous experiments, making this his most balanced album yet. He’s mastered the sound of indulgent, sinful despair.

We see the typical brooding on sinister opening track “Alone Again” which takes us back to the smoky R&B sounds of the past before introducing a full sonic breakdown halfway through. We fully circle back to his roots toward the end of the track list with “After Hours” and album closer “Until I Bleed Out.” The Starboy influence is felt most in “Hardest To Love,” “Blinding Lights,” “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears.” The pop elements are coated with an 80s sound, seen especially in the groove of “In Your Eyes” with its saxophone solo.

Perhaps the strongest section of the album falls between tracks five and nine. In “Snowchild,” the R&B song dusted with lo-fi, he takes us back his roots and chronicles his rise to riches. “I used to pray when I was sixteen,” he says. “If I didn’t make it, then I’d probably make my wrist bleed.”

Later in the song, he crows about his success. “Twenty mill’ mansion, never lived in it. Zero edge pool, never dipped in it.” It’s the kind of brag often found in his songs — a subtle boasting about his wealth, but lamenting how it can’t take away his gloom.

In a Post Malone “Hollywood’s Bleeding” fashion, track six is titled “Escape From LA” and is one of the more despondent on the album. It’s a fight for his soul in a city that’s never what it seems, and his vices (sex and drugs) continue to get the best of him. This sense of hopelessness makes for a seamless transition into the cold “Heartless” in which he fully embraces his hedonism. His opened wounds have calloused over, his pain turned to apathy.

This is followed by “Faith,” where he goes from heartless to wearing his heart on his sleeve. “I thought I’d be a better man, but I lied to you and me,” he admits. It’s a mix between genuine vulnerability and dramatized wallowing, complete with a Shakespearean tragedy — “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me.” In track nine, massive hit “Blinding Lights,” Tesfaye longs for her to return to his side, and the song feels inherently lonely despite the upbeat tempo and techno influence.

Eventually, we reach the final track “Until I Bleed Out,” and it’s a somber, dismal end for Tesfaye. The longing he felt in songs like “Alone Again” and “Blinding Light” turns into a longing for her painful memory to be gone, saying “I wanna cut you out of my mind ’til I’m bleeding out.” From track to track, as he processes the breakup, the pendulum of emotions swings, sometimes finding the beauty and other times settling into the madness. But as we close out the album, in a show of helpless vulnerability, he puts his shield of mystery down once and for all, his defenselessness on full display  — “I can’t explain why I’m terrified,” he sings. It’s a painful end to an incredible performance. He’s further solidified his rule as sad boy king. 

Final rating: 4/5

Featured image: Courtesy Universal Music Group

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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