Review Summary: You could call it a sell-out but you'd only be cheating yourself out of one of the smartest pop records of the year
When analyzing Drake's monumentally narcissistic 2013 effort Nothing Was the Same
, Adam Thomas deferred much of his criticisms in favour of blankly enjoying the walking contradiction Drake had so shamelessly become. It was a more than reasonable conclusion to come to- the contradiction most black artists rely on nowadays has become a tiring, solipsistic game for critics- and it speaks to a suspension of overly critical analysis that we should sometimes encourage. An extension of Drake's vile and misogynistic tendencies, co-signed Abel Tesfaye took much of this to its absolute limit, resolutely finding himself an audience difficult to please in lieu of The Trilogy, a series of albums that stand among the decade's finest.
The problem that occurred in the immediate furor of those mixtapes was whether or not to confound or comply to commercial desires, resulting in Kiss Land
, an overly long attempt to continue the lecherous, hook-averse formula perfected on Echoes of Silence
. Suddenly, The Weeknd appeared a tired and stale concept in comparison to his counterparts, unable to adapt to the mainstream or satisfy the underground. In retrospect, it's likely the reason why designed-for-Top 40 hit "Can't Feel My Face" is such a breath of fresh air. It doesn't attempt to wallow in The Weeknd's usual fare of the sleazy predator, opting instead for sharp and on-point hooks; when he does devolve into the lothario, such as on Kanye West assisted "Tell Your Friends", he drags scummy words through the tune of a sparse soul standard ('I'm that ni
gger with the hair/Singing 'bout popping pills, fu
cking bitches, living life so trill'). Any obvious attempts to pander to his audience- the cynical admission of, 'When I'm fu
cked up, that's the real me' on "The Hills", "Often"'s close associations to Illangelo's production techniques- still provide greater thrills than the homogenous nature of Kiss Land
's lesser material. No doubt the presence of Cali the Producer, whose engineering fingerprints are all over the best moments of Carly Rae Jepsen's E•MO•TION
, has helped move The Weeknd away from weak attempts at mimicking the Trilogy and firmly into the chart success he's capable of achieving.
That being the case, it's understandable why many will turn their back on The Weeknd and his abandonment of his perverted underground persona. Obviously, Tesfaye hasn't topped The Trilogy- Ed Sheeran's boozy turn on "Dark Times" simply doesn't measure up to the devastating coda Drake delivers on "The Zone"- but then it's unlikely himself or his PBR&B counterparts ever will. You could call it a sell-out but you'd only be cheating yourself out of one of the smartest pop records of the year; considering the caliber of pop music charting thus far, that's no mean feat.