Review Summary: Slow burner or flickering embers?
Surprise, unannounced releases can be a great way for an artist to enhance their reputation and give a slice of something new, something unexpected, to catch fans off guard, or to show a new side. So for an artist like The Weeknd to attempt to pull this off - when a constant criticism of his previous output is that he lacks the consistency and draw for full-length projects – automatically fills the listener with a sense of trepidation and excitement. Where could he be going next? Well, fairly disappointingly, My Dear Melancholy,
is something of a crabwalk, sideways stepping through the more restrained and heartfelt highlights of Abel Tesfaye.
From the almost UK-garage influenced ‘Wasted Times’, to the seeming offcuts of Starboy
sessions in ‘Try Me’ and ‘Hurt You’, to the tropical ballad ‘Privilege’, thematically, My Dear Melancholy,
is a soul-on-display, heart on sleeve trek through slow, jittering synths, down-pitched vocal samples and tight, blunt percussion. Smooth grooves, heavily effected emotive vocals, fluid production. A new edition of the rulebook rather than a total rewrite. So, the soundtrack to the promise of summer this assuredly is not, and for this reviewer at least, there’s something a little cynical and jarring hearing convincing frailty and vulnerability from someone who dropped a huge single 18 months ago solely to brag about excess and extravagance. It may speak volumes about Abel’s track record that I’m just not all that convinced by his claims of ‘never wanting to hurt you’ whilst still reaping the royalties of showing off that ‘sidebitch out of your league’. Indeed, while there’s subtlety and nuance to be enjoyed on this collection, where it falls short (and not for the first time in his career) is that The Weeknd doesn’t quite show who he wants to be – where the subject matter and ambience harks back to some of his previous E.P work and the much-maligned Kiss Land
, the production is predominantly Starboy
-influenced, with the mix never quite separating itself from either strongly enough to be considered a true departure.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of this E.P may well come down to how much you previously considered yourself a fan. For the more dedicated follower, the project might just fall disappointingly short as it all too often sounds like a slightly more refined version of what he’s brought out before. For the background listener, however, this is a fine example of satisfyingly simple, silky R’n’B production held together by a sultry, elegant vocal (albeit one that’s a little too reverb-heavy for the minimal production). Be under no illusions here, the end product is breathtakingly smooth. What remains to be seen, however, is whether this continues to keep the attention of his followers or whether it will have shifted by the time he decides to move up a gear.
P.S I'd wager there will be little-to-no more vocal passages released in 2018 quite as uncomfortable as 'And I know right now that we're not talkin', I hope you know this dick is still an option'. Shudder.