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After Hours (Universal)

Abel Tesfaye and what may or may not be his alter ego as The Weeknd isn’t having any more success with women.

Actually, more accurately, women aren’t having any more success with Abel Tesfaye’s Weeknd. Because he’s a shit. Which he’s perfectly fine with, if you’re asking, despite protestations about his past behaviour and future intentions.

He’s a Canadian shit who isn’t above feeling bad for himself, declaring “I don’t know if I can be alone again”, as the album opens. And you might, if you didn’t know better, feel a bit sorry for him. Misunderstood again? Cast aside again?

Take off my disguise/I'm living someone else's life/Suppressing who I was inside,” he sings in Alone Again, suggesting he might need to “rewire all my thoughts”, before asking of this woman “Oh baby won’t you remind me what I am/And break, break my little cold heart?”

Come track two, Too Late, our beleaguered man seems to be making a confession amid a realisation of consequences. “I let you down, I led you on/I never thought I’d be here without you … I just wanna believe there’s so much more.”

Yeah, nah. Nice try Abel, but for all the self-lacerating, the persona of The Weeknd is not one for turning that much. Certainly not one revisiting the idea of “who I was inside”.

Wait for Heartless where it is succinctly explained “Never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch need/Tryna to find the one that can fix me/I’ve been dodging death in the six speed.”. He’s changing? “Tryna be a better man but I’m heartless.”

Musical as much as lyrical ideas reappear throughout the album, as if this is 56 minutes of therapy and conversation in pretty much the same outfits (with accessories to change the attention) with its waystations still on-topic.

Principally it’s a mix of ancient - as in the Neolithic 1980s - synths and rhythm sounds (In Your Eyes may as well have come from a Howard Jones-produced single for Nik Kershaw; Scared To Live is his spin on a big Prince ballad), with an older soul sensitivity, some spurts of jungle (Hardest To Love) and garage (Too Late) beats, and then across all that an echoing-in-space more contemporary sound around his sometimes crumbled voice (the title track find the vocals spinning in space).

Over this comes his standard trembling, thrown high voice which works hard on being vulnerable, especially when he adds a little treatment to the falsetto to put a wobble in it. He may be a bastard, he says, he may be more inclined to indulge in whatever is available, but he can make you feel something, or at the very least react.

Take one of the album’s most interesting tracks, Faith (another nod to the ‘80s?), where twin synth moves – a thick wash and a nagging propulsion – references to R.E.M and Prince, the abandonment of any sobriety but not that needy selfishness, and an airy atmosphere that climaxes with grandeur, build a world on its own.

Or a companion piece, Repeat After Me (Interlude), that feels like the morning after of Faith, with its blurry shape of layered synths and sombre tones that speak of weariness – though wariness might be more appropriate from the woman he’s addressing with a veneer of earnestness.

“It’s natural to find someone to treat you right/But it ain’t right if you fuck him out of spite/You don’t have to cry girl, let me wipe your eyes.” Hmm. Maybe not.

Then there are songs that work almost as a reverse of Faith, the aforementioned In Your Eyes and the bouncing pop of Blinding Lights. which while still immersed in the same decade are more likely to spring handbags on the dancefloor and big arm swing-dancing with synth runs and handclap drums.

It’s almost like you could have fun with The Weeknd. Perhaps with the right amount of social distancing – as in, a good arm’s length away from you, with a pole as backup.

APPLE MUSIC: Listen to The Weeknd – After Hours


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