Review Summary: Back to my old ways.
It’s probably not fair that after a million reviews and criticisms have been written about The Weeknd failing to meet the standard of his 2011 mixtapes, he is now mining that stylistic and tonal palette and earning deafening yawns in return. Obviously, he does not deserve plaudits simply by virtue of nostalgia, and obviously, I am not saying that My Dear Melancholy,
isn’t at least in league with the best of The Weeknd’s output whilst signed to Republic. But it’s interesting to read some publications castigating “I Was Never There” for being ‘swaddled in reverb
,’ whilst also accusing Starboy
of being an ‘opportunistic compilation
.’ Damned either way, his career is more or less a belaboured question about whether or not he can be critically canonised without being measured against music he was releasing 7 years ago.
For what it’s worth, I hate having to ask this fuck
ing question every 14 months (or however long the promotional cycle runs, dependent on other factors). I just do not care anymore about whether or not The Weeknd can or cannot do this, or that, and bend and contort himself to suit my own critical will. I gave him a bit too much credit when it came to Beauty Behind the Madness
, I gave him a little too little credit for Starboy
, and in between, listened to the hits when they played on the radio, the bangers when they played in clubs, and the mixtapes when I had my headphones on. It’s just not interesting anymore; I, and I assume everybody else, has decided to listen to The Weeknd as it suits their needs, and in turn, made their peace accordingly. Simply stated: Nobody cares.
So why does The Weeknd care? Such naked attempts at grasping for relevancy have never looked good on him (see Beauty Behind the Madness
, any of its singles, or its Ed Sheeran feature), and when he grasps so wantonly at a mood that’s now staid, it’s even more unappealing (this was generally the reason that nobody liked Kiss Land
). His status as a bona fide pop musician, whether he likes it or not, is now stuck to him in a way completely irreconcilable with the desires of independent blog-writers. For him to vainly incorporate it into his Starboy aesthetic sounds as much like a pointless flex on his constantly dissatisfied critics. He’s much bigger, much better, and more artistically fulfilled than I or others will ever give him credit for; the thrust of My Dear Melancholy,
then, which postulates that The Weeknd can in fact still pivot between Morrissey, Drake, and Prince, just doesn’t feel necessary or vital at all. It feels unproductive.
I’m not saying that My Dear Melancholy, is without purpose, but I am saying that some of its purpose is at least to push against listeners, and make them feel uncomfortable about hating The Weeknd for being a celebrity. There’s an assumption then-- since confirmed by uncontrolled hype and chatter-- that this is his most conscious attempt to revisit the sound he was producing around the mixtape era. That’s not really true, even as it is his most masterful attempt at writing subtly melodic, minimal, ambient R&B music in years; in execution, though, it tends to err closer to the refined, accessible Starboy
archetype. However, as opposed to that album, My Dear Melancholy,
is bent on entertaining a far more miserable angle, and rounds out its purpose more clearly; by lyrically considering and humiliating Bella Hadid and Selena Gomez for their betrayals.
Unavoidably, that topic becomes difficult to reconcile with the idea of Abel Tesfaye descending backwards into the anonymity of House of Balloons
and embracing his lyrical lothario. The fact of the matter is that these characters he sings about, whether it be the ungrateful lady that abandons him on “Call Out My Name,” or the (possibly underaged?) whore described on “Try Me,” or the deceitful and addictive vixen on “Wasted Time,” are probably people we see in tabloids every day, and by all accounts, seem to be living fine without Abel. It lends the music here a pettiness that transforms Abel from a romantic and problematic auteur into a plain and simple bully, hell bent on recapturing what is left of his glory days, both musically and sexually.
Truthfully, whilst it all goes some ways towards making My Dear Melancholy,
one of the better and more meaningful albums to come from The Weeknd on a major label, it has an overwhelming tendency to feel completely discomfiting and trite. You can barely notice that he sampled Nicolas Jaar’s “Killing Time,” or utilised Skrillex’s sirens and animal sounds, or Gesaffelstein's screwed up, twisted horns, or Mike Will Made-It’s thumping drums, because The Weeknd just sinks them it all into a miasma where only negativity prevails and his words become barbed and cynical. Thankfully, at only 6 songs, it’s not overbearing enough to warrant much engaged harshness; one can imagine that these songs were probably highlights whittled out of what was once a longer, less focused, more venomous album. Regardless, even as these songs are musical gems, it’s hard to care about the significance of it all, because it all comes out sounding like the old Weeknd, transposed upon the celebrity of the new Weeknd.
Consequently, enjoyment for this sort of album can be derived from two factors: being, your toleration for pandering, and your toleration for complainers. Given the circumstances, I’d advise you simply look past either point and enjoy the music superficially, but if you’re finally sick of The Weeknd’s melancholy, now might be the time to look elsewhere.