Beauty Behind The Madness (iTunes)
It has been a rocky relationship with Abel Tesfaye and myself. Starting with his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, The Weeknd spearheaded an alternative to the more conventional side of R&B. Don’t get me wrong, there was machismo, there was debauchery, much like what you would find in a Chris Brown song. Yet in The Weeknd’s material, his songs bled a nihilism and darkness never before seen in R&B. Drugs, money, sex (and lots of it), Abel is unapologetic in his depravity and in a short time, his music engaged many listeners, everyone …. except me.
Take it from someone who grew up on Goth Rock and Industrial music, nihilism can become predictable after a little while, if the music is void of any progression, and that’s why I didn’t care for 2013’s Kiss Land. Fast forward to 2015 and after a slew of singles (“Love Me Harder” w/Ariana Grande, “Earned It”) began propelling him into the mainstream light, we have finally arrived at his sophomore effort, Beauty Behind the Madness.
My expectations were middle of the road for this album, but luckily we are off to a good start with “Real Life.” The epic instrumentation leaves Abel to get his best Michael Jackson impression off from Jump Street as he recalls how his mother reflects to him, that his lifestyle would be the death of him. “Losers” and “Tell Your Friends” were okay, however the latter was beginning to reveal the chinks in Abel’s armor, where he once again became predictable in his content. Kanye West provides the production on “Tell Your Friends,” but that doesn’t mean that I enjoy what’s being recited here, especially if I believe that the stories could use fresh approaches to them, same goes for songs like “Often” and “Acquainted”.
However, where there are weaknesses, there are strengths, which are reflected in the tracks where Abel begins taking risks with his themes from a sonic perspective. “Can’t Feel My Face” helped breathe new life into The Weeknd’s drug-ridden flings with the opposite sex, with a tight groove lifted straight out of 80s Funk and a melody that is so sugary sweet, you’ll become diabetic by the time you get halfway through the song.
“Shameless” and “In the Night” are other highlights. The former led by an acoustic guitar for the backdrop, leading into an impressive electric guitar solo, while the latter is a slick groove drenched in bass and synthesizers, reminiscent of “Can’t Feel My Face.” The Weeknd’s tales are growing more disturbing by the song, with every woman becoming more and more tortured, ranging from strippers with deeper roots behind their soullessness or masochists that live for the pain that Abel has no “shame” in giving.
As my third listen of Beauty Behind the Madness came to an end with “Angel,” that song coming after two collaborative efforts with Ed Sheeran on “Dark Times” and Lana Del Rey on “Prisoner,” The Weeknd has proven to me, thematically he is just as emotionally empty now than he was then, letting go of his one and only hope for empathy and love on “Angel.” I guess whatever his vice may be, is the shit that he lives for (get it?).
As a music listener, this leaves me wondering just where Abel goes from here. Of course, Beauty knocks Kiss Land right out of the park, as he took chances to bring more of a Pop sensibility to his brand of Alternative R&B. Some experiments worked (“Can’t Feel My Face”, “Shameless”, “Dark Times”), some could have but didn’t live up to their full potential (“Losers,” “Prisoner,” “Angel” to an extent …. [no need for that children’s choir at the tail end]) and the songs that we know The Weeknd for, were just more of the same. (“Often,” “Acquainted”). As much as this album left me exhausted and winded from just how royally fucked up Abel is to himself and the people around him, this also left me in anticipation to when I get to hear his melodrama get the best of him (in a thematic sense). All in all, it is not a bad album, not a great album, but time will tell as to whether or not the Madness is as compelling as the projects that made him somebody to pay attention to in the first place. But for now, enjoy Abel’s beautiful disaster.
Score: 3 ½ out of 5
Most Favorites: “Can’t Feel My Face”, “Shameless”, “In the Night”, “Dark Times”
Least Favorites: “Acquainted”, “Earned It”