The room seems to be painted red. With flashing lights flooding the space, you attempt to gather your surroundings. You’re not quite sure if it’s the drugs, the liquor, or a combination of the two, but everything seems to be flowing… ever… so… slowly. You don’t care. Moreover, it seems that no one else does either. As the loud music pumps into the atmosphere you’re surrounded by the most beautiful people you have ever seen, and even though this should make anyone happy, it only makes you feel empty. You continue to plunge into the more base instincts that govern us, giving in to wild moments of pleasure and debauchery; because tonight, that’s all that matters. A glossy veneer covers the darkness of the night.
This dystopian place is the setting of The Weeknd’s latest album, Beauty Behind the Madness, an album that shows the evolution of music’s beloved, tortured crooner. The overall tone of the album is darkly decadent and mysterious. Never straying from the subject matter that launched his career, The Weeknd welcomes us back into his musical playground that teeters on the edge of being wildly exciting and dangerously twisted. What makes this album stand out from his previous work is it’s quality. It perfectly documents the party, the after party, and the witching hour when the world is only comprised of lovers.
What sets Beauty Behind the Madness apart from the rest of Abel Tesfaye’s catalogue is it’s musical maturity. The Weeknd steps into his role as one of the premiere R&B artists of our time, and is unabashed in his content and delivery. The songs revolve around the highs and lows of love- often in relation to drugs- and the New Gilded Age that society has found itself enraptured in. As one of the leaders in the Toronto music scene that’s taking the world by storm, The Weeknd has returned with a new set of sounds that cannot be denied.
I was admittedly hesitant when I first heard that The Weeknd was releasing a new album. While I was a fan of his earlier mixtape work, I became disinterested when he released Kissland. That album sounded, to me, like rejected songs from his critically acclaimed Trilogy. He was seemingly going through the motions and not stretching himself creatively as a singer nor as a songwriter.
However, my trepidation started to wane when I heard, “Earned It” for the first time. In an age where most of our music is solely crafted on computer and keyboard, it was refreshing to hear an R&B song on the charts that utilized live instrumentation. Furthermore, when it became clear that the song was partnered with the highly anticipated movie 50 Shades of Gray, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one who approved of Abel’s change of pace. While venturing into new sonic territory, he also managed to remain true to himself and the type of artist that he is, something that’s increasingly difficult in today’s musical landscape.
“Earned It” was a commercial success, the first of that magnitude for The Weeknd, yet no one was prepared for his later release that arguably became the song of the summer. That distinction goes to “Can’t Feel My Face.” It is no secret that Michael Jackson is one of The Weeknd’s vocal muses. His range is quite similar to The King of Pop, and while I wouldn’t dare say that he sings well as MJ, one cannot deny that he’s the closest to the mark that we have seen in quite awhile, in certain areas.
This is only further solidified by “Can’t Feel My Face,” an uptempo track that sees the normally low energy artist turn it up to a level that we’ve never seen before. With it’s funky bassline and hornlike synths, the song is reminiscent of the house music of the 80’s and early 90’s that made artists such as Robin S and Cece Peniston household names (Only 90s kids and above are hip to those names). The song quickly found itself in dance clubs all around the world, and soon at the top of the charts. It was at this moment where The Weeknd became a pop star.
Whenever a major artist releases a new album, people tend to be quick to label the project either a classic, or use memes and gifs to describe how trash it is. While I personally believe that we should allow more time for music to gestate within the culture, social media and the internet have conditioned us to make and demand knee jerk reactions from the tastemakers and the Twittersphere. However, I knew right away that this album was something special.
On Beauty Behind The Madness, we can see an artist learn from early mistakes, take their experiences in hand, and push their original brand to formulate a project that stands out from the pack. Beauty Behind the Madness is music to dance to, relax to, smoke to, and make love to. While it’s not like the R&B we grew up on, it certainly has elements of Jodeci, Prince, and Michael Jackson within it. Combine these traces with the vibes and sounds that our generation has crafted, and we have a cohesive album that we may look back on 20 years from now. If the Weeknd could make a believer out of me, I can only imagine what he’s going to do next.
Purchase Beauty Behind The Madness on iTunes.
Follow Jordan on Twitter at @BlackTrickEwing.