Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, has not been as quiet as he normally is after releasing the dark "My Dear Melancholy," in 2018. He released its follow-up with his fourth studio album titled "After Hours" Friday.
Between the releases of "My Dear Melancholy" and "After Hours," The Weeknd acted in the Adam Sandler-starring 2019 release "Uncut Gems," playing the role of himself.
He announced to a sold-out Toronto crowd in 2018 that a new album was on the way and proceeded to consistently wear the same afro hairstyle, mustache, and red jacket in each following performance and promotional social media post. The music world began to gradually sense the mysterious and tremendously talented singer's return to the spotlight.
In February, he announced "After Hours" release date as well as the cover art, which is a portrait-style photo of The Weeknd rocking the same aforementioned look, only this time with blood dripping down his face and staining his teeth as he flashes a grim smile.
He also dropped a few singles that appeared on "After Hours," such as the album's title track and the outstanding "Blinding Lights." Fast forward a few months and some red-tinted music videos, and "After Hours" was released by XO and Republic Records Friday.
The Weeknd is confessional while still radiating the old themes of his music because sinful nightlife, toxic sexual relationships and lots of money are still prominent topics, which are reflected in the first song "Alone Again."
"Take off my disguise / I'm living someone else's life / Suppressing who I was inside / So I throw 2,000 ones in the sky."
Sinful nightlife indeed — only a few lines later he sings that he feels at home in Las Vegas.
His production has been a consistent highlight of each of his preceding albums, in my opinion, and this is largely what attracts me to his music. Disagree? Wait until you hear the saxophone at the 2:38 time stamp on "In Your Eyes." I believe he pioneered and perfected the wave of singing R&B over gloomy trap beats and assisted in uniting 2010's R&B with hip-hop. "After Hours" feels like The Weeknd at his peak, but he simultaneously gives hope that he still has so much more artistic ability and range to show off.
The Weeknd produces many of these tracks himself but on "After Hours," he relies heavily on Atlanta producer Metro Boomin, which pays off immensely. Metro is known for his heavy percussion and club bangers like "X" by 21 Savage and "Jumpman" by Drake and Future. This album also features a surprise collaboration with Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, who has production credits on "Repeat After Me (Interlude)."
This album also shows an uncertain side of The Weeknd. At the album's beginning, it feels apparent he is changing and he's not the same "Starboy" we thought we knew. On "Scared To Live," he sings about how he has changed.
"I am not the man I used to be / Did some things I couldn't let you see / Refused to be the one who taints your heart / So don't be scared to live again."
Two songs later is "Heartless," the album's lead single.
"And I'm back to my ways 'cause I'm heartless / All this money and this pain got me heartless / Low life for life 'cause I'm heartless."
After hearing this, it became obvious that The Weeknd is not fully committed to becoming the man he said he was going to be at the beginning of the album. That was confirmed once I heard the title track again, this time in its place in chronological order.
"Different girls on the floor, distracting my thoughts of you / I turned into the man I used to be, to be."
The album's cold conclusion is "Until I Bleed Out," and it is a beautiful ending to the album's thrill and shift from manic to somber — both sides are equally satisfying to hear. Remember what the album cover looked like? Listening to this song again while conscious of both the track's title and the album's cover art makes "Until I Bleed Out" much more impactful and a bit cinematic. I interpreted it as The Weeknd's euphoric trip through "After Hours" coming to a fatal end.
Over the years, I believe The Weeknd has put out albums that range in quality of above-average to very good. "Starboy," released in 2016, was great and had a list of features that was modern music's Justice League, such as Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar and Daft Punk making appearances. "Beauty Behind the Madness," a 2015 release, is what broke The Weeknd into stardom and has some of his most memorable tracks on it, such as "The Hills," "Can't Feel My Face" and "Earned It," the latter appearing on the soundtrack of "Fifty Shades of Grey."
"After Hours" is The Weeknd's strongest album to date. Its fluid cohesion while remaining concise, with just under a one-hour runtime, is what sets it apart from the remainder of his discography. It's got everything a surefire album needs: smash hit records, some artistic direction, and overall enjoyable and original sounds, lyrics and production.
Jay Electronica's "A Written Testimony," Lil Uzi Vert's "Eternal Atake" and Tame Impala's "The Slow Rush" all contain songs that are early submissions for my annual Top 25 Songs list that I'll compile at the end of 2020. You can expect "After Hours" to have a song or two that not only make the list but will be played for many years to come.