Three years ago, a mysterious artist by the name The Weeknd uploaded three songs to YouTube; What You Need, Loft Music and The Morning. It was like nothing we had ever heard before, but who was this guy? Or was it a band? What does he look like? No one knew. Then Wicked Games was released and after cosigns from Drake, the hype was building. The first mixtape House of Balloons dropped and everyone’s minds were blown. Teasers for his next release Thursday began as another trio of tunes appeared; The Birds (Pt. 1), Rolling Stone and Trust Issues. Was this guy capable of making a bad song?? It didn’t sound like it so far. He had a cult following before anyone even knew who he was.
After a final mixtape Echoes of Silence and the Trilogy compilation, the countdown to his first major label album had begun. Three years on, Abel Tesfaye is finally ready to release his debut Kiss Land next week (September 10th).
THE WEEKND – KISS LAND [stream here]
Kiss Land represents a completely different artist than his earlier mixtapes do. He’s blown up now; 23 and signed to a major record label. His name is on everyone’s lips and his music is in everyone’s iTunes. The cloud of mystery that surrounded him before is almost completely gone after world tours, music videos and TV appearances and most of his lyrics address this. He talks about the new-found fame and dealing with all the things that come with it, but the codeine cups and groupies are still there of course.
When the album title was announced, I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t question it. Kiss Land? Sounded like he was about to drop a pansy, pop album to rival Lady Gaga. Here’s his explanation:
“I didn’t want to call it Dark World or something so generic. The title came from a conversation that I overheard and those words stuck out. Someone said, “Kiss Land” and I thought, “That’s going to be the title of my album.” It sounds so ridiculous. When I put [the title] out everyone was like, “What the hell? This is going to be corny. It’s going to be all lovey-dovey.”
When the first song dropped in May, everyone was dying to hear the change from mixtape to album. The title track Kiss Land came first and it was fresh (the infamous Big Q definitely enjoyed it) yet it left us dying to hear more and wanting the album to drop already. Next, we were given Belong To The World which was a tad disappointing at first and left us skeptical, fearing that the album would be more of the same. But then Love In The Sky came out and faith was restored.
I won’t lie, despite the first two singles being quite strong, I wasn’t as excited to listen to this album as I was for Thursday or Echoes of Silence. But once the free stream became available that changed and I was reminded of The Weeknd’s magic. The feel is definitely different but still familiar. It’s full of the usual dark themes and airy falsettos but with more futuristic sounds, from the spacey Odd Look remix to the sombre Adaptation. There are 10 tracks plus two bonuses as The Weeknd tries to make a movie with this latest collection of songs. Here’s a track by track review:
TRACK BY TRACK
- Professional – The album opens pretty slowly and softly with the two-tone Professional which features The Weeknd singing over some minimalistic production initially until half way through when the song switches up and the beats kicks in. Right from the first track, the Michael Jackson-esque, wispy vocals and harmonies can be heard as he sings about the struggles of a stripper, a typical Weeknd topic.
- The Town – On the second harmony-laden track, Abel sings of a girl back home that left him for someone else. It’s a lyrically great track with a dark beat that could have come from any one of his previous mixtapes and sees him breaking out into an eery MJ falsetto throughout. It also ties directly into the next track nicely.
- Adaptation – This is the first song on the album that properly catches your ear. The Weeknd croons about having to leave his girl at home to pursue his career and adapting to his new life of strippers and groupies, in contrast to the previous song. The chorus is one of his best and the song is topped off by the classic inaudible voice samples in the background as heard in tracks like Enemy. Drums take the song out and lead into Love In The Sky
“She might have been the one; I let it go, for a little fun”.
- Love In The Sky – This is the album’s highlight. Singing about a drugged up sexual encounter, making love “in the sky”, the track is heavy on emotion with its pounding drums and electric guitar. The real gold though is when it breaks down in the middle as the drums cut out and The Weeknd begins to ask “how does it feel” before continuing to reflect on his rise to fame and the stresses of touring. The 23-year old shines here in one of his best moments.
- Belong To The World – Probably the most pop-oriented track on the album, it would do well in radio rotation due to its catchy hook and lighter theme although it sees him singing about a stripper AGAIN. He’s said “Belong to the World is about falling in love with the wrong person” although there is a bigger figurative meaning about mainstream success as well. The music video was indeed cinematic, check it below:
- Live For (ft. Drake) – This track baffled me. One of his laziest efforts to date, it is probably only saved by a Drake feature. It’s not a terrible song, but he can and has made so many better records. It most definitely doesn’t touch their previous collaboration The Zone from Thursday and the introduction gives it promise but the weak, rushed, repetitive chorus isn’t a good moment for Mr. XO
- Wanderlust – An electric guitar brings this track in, before two crashing snares and a funky instrumental kicks off. If you want a bit of 80s nostalgia, this is the track for it, as The Weeknd ponders the idea of real love on this upbeat number that would make Daft Punk jealous. It’s also an example of The Weeknd trying something a bit different and he pulls it off.
- Kiss Land – The title track is a tune. In a similar fashion to Love In The Sky and in typical Weeknd fashion, the song comes in two parts. First singing about strippers (AGAIN!), there’s a slowed, screwed and trippy transition into a more heavy beat where the Canadian sings about his crazy come up which nobody could ever relate to.
“I went from starin’ at the same four walls for 21 years, To seein’ the whole world in just twelve months”.
- Pretty – In contrast to Adaptation, on this track he sings about returning to his girl back home. Although it ties in with the album’s concept and themes its probably one of the less enjoyable songs.
- Tears in the Rain – Almost like a sequel to Thursday track Next and running at 7:26, it’s one of the album’s longest tracks and sees Abel close the album with his wispy falsetto about groupies wanting him for his fame and money.
- Wanderlust (Pharrell Remix) [bonus] – a surprising but welcome bonus inclusion, Pharrell Williams gives the album track his treatment and from the get-go you can hear his influence. He definitely improves the original and the Toronto singer’s echoey vocals go well over Pharrell’s skippy production (Blurred Lines much?). Hopefully they collaborate more often in the future.
- Odd Look [bonus] – The final song sees The Weeknd give his touch to this Kavinsky track. A party tune, it offers a different sound than usual but still works. It opens with more singing in a King of Pop-style falsetto with pulsating synths, as he talks about getting with a girl and introducing her to his lifestyle.
This is a top quality album and a solid effort for his debut studio LP. It’s driven by the same fuel from HOB, Thursday and EoS although it doesn’t beat any of them, which says alot about the high standard of The Weeknd’s releases. As with all his material, it gets better each time you listen to it and most of the songs will certainly grow on you. The relieving thing is that The Weeknd hasn’t strayed too far from the sound that brought him the fame he now sings about.
It seems obvious to say but it actually sounds like an album in comparison to his previous releases. You can hear the contrast between Trilogy and Kiss Land, but it’s hard to put a finger on. The only explanation is ILLANGELO. The producer who essentially crafted The Weeknd’s undeniable, unique sound and got him a Grammy for his part in Crew Love was ditched for the big event. His exclusion is something the producer has said “he’d rather not talk about” (awkward). The producers that filled in have provided a decent soundbed but it rarely matches up to the Trilogy’s production and this may be a real deal-breaker for some fans.
If I had to be critical, I’d have to comment on the repetitive content of The Weeknd’s music. Nearly every song includes a combination of sex, alcohol, drugs and depression and the formula seems to be the same every time. The music itself is great, but the topics could prove repetitive and all the songs seem to say more or less the same thing. A lot of the mystery is now gone too, which was what made the artist so interesting when he first broke out. It seems so long ago that The Weeknd was no more than an unknown entity dropping countless bangers seemingly out of nowhere. The fact that The Weeknd now has an Instagram account says it all (c’mon son, what’s with all the selfies?) but he couldn’t stay shrouded forever and his brief anonymity will always be remembered.
Those are minor criticisms though and it will be interesting to see how the artist evolves from this point. I hope he continues to stay true to his style but isn’t afraid to experiment. I’d like to see him maybe delve into other genres and try something different. In only a couple of years, The Weeknd has established himself as one of the voices of this generation, and perhaps one of the freshest talents since the King of Pop (he even sounds eerily like Michael, just listen to D.D.), continuing to set trends as he leads the PR&B or ‘ethereal’ R&B movement. The only way is upwards for the enigmatic Canadian.
The album is due to come out on September 10th, for now you can stream it here (or below) but make sure you cop it (on iTunes) or in your local store when its released. Show your support by going to one of the shows on his Kiss Land official tour (details here) and leave a comment with your views on the album below!
House of Balloons > Echoes of Silence > Thursday > Kiss Land. Discuss.