What a difference 72 hours can make? You know those three days at the end of the work week where you can feel free to just let yourself loose to do whatever you want and not be judged, as if you would even care anyway. Seems as if the R&B genre feels the same way and has made an interesting turn as it did in the 1990’s with the new-jack swing and neo-soul movements. But the one thing seems to remain the same is that it will forever be the soundtrack for those three days of release that R&B’s newest phenom, Abel Tesfaye who titles himself as… Ladies and Gentlemen, enter into The Weeknd!
A new constant has arisen in what R&B sounds like. The grinding darkness of static buzzes over detached break-beats, piercing minor chords and video game sound effects, driven by 808 kick drums and dusty synth bass lines. There is a small emerging collective of artists that are experimenting with this sonic approach as their foundation to the R&B space and calling it, ‘alternative.’
Welcome to the second decade of the 21st century, the past 25 year evolution of soul music has changed dramatically. Since its early musings of hip-hop with artists like Keith Sweat, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, SWV and Al B. Sure!, and producers such as, Teddy Riley, DeVante Swing, Timbaland and Pharrell Williams the sound and state of R&B has absorbed a myriad of sonic connotations. Just take a listen to artists like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Jhene Aiko, Makkonen, SZA, Majid Jordan and FKA Twigs. But at his very introduction to his core fan base and onslaught of new admirers it seems as if Abel had it right from the very start.
Now hold on! I must point out that this sound is nothing new. You may now ask yourself, Huh, What and How? Well, this approach to ‘alternative’ R&B was originally introduced, once again in the 90’s most notably by non-domestic acts like Massive Attack, Portishead, Prodigy & Tricky. Now go do your homework!
What has made TheWeeknd so unique is his reviving of a sound that was clearly ahead of its time! But, the most precious gift that Abel has is his abstract and unquestionable vivid storytelling of the blatant debaucherous spirit that lies beneath us that we all struggle to free ourselves from.
His introduction was marked by the benevolence of giving us a story of sin, shame and seduction that subtly made us crave for more. The mixtapes, House Of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes Of Silence were gifts that just kept on giving and then repackaged after signing a deal with Republic Records as The Trilogy with a few bonus tracks. Then he slightly graduated his presence and appeal on 2013’s Kissland, that was only the tip before the full-entry of fornication filled with freedom and fantasy.
Now that we are full into 2015, let me rewind just a bit to when it was almost February and we were not ready for the gift that would never want TheWeeknd to end. Abel releases the perfect anthem that describes his emergence, and in the same token it became the theme for the most-anticipated novel to hit the silver screen, 50 Shades Of Grey! A hit for a hit, and yes he “Earned It!”
We clearly can see that the title of his latest project, Beauty Behind The Madness, has undisputedly shifted the sound of not only R&B, but popular music as well while it debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Beauty Behind The Madness is the second album to debut at number one in 2015 only behind’ Drake’s, If You’re Reading This, You’re Too Late. Drake originally introduced his Canadian cohort, Abel to the masses on his Take Care release in 2011 with the single “Crew Love”.
Beauty Behind The Madness is another step forward for Abel, the singles “Earned It”, “Often”, “The Hills” and the outright blaze of “I Can’t Feel My Face” gives listeners nowhere to run or hide from the tenacity of artistry that is TheWeeknd!
Abel has never held back his poignant influence on other artists, which has always been proven in his collaborative efforts to the game. Take note of “One Of Those Nights” with Juicy J, “Remember You” with Wiz Khalifa, “Odd Look” with Kavinsky, “Elastic Heart” with Sia and “Love Me Harder” with Ariana Grande. Beauty Behind The Madness contains three distinct collaborations where Abel does what he does best by pulling the contributing artist into his world and pushing them beyond what they may have thought of their own capabilities.
Let’s start with “Losers” featuring Labrinth, grand piano and rhythmic hand claps looming in with kettle drums to put the lyrics on front street until the snare drops with glistening keys with a guitar lick for the hook, “No? So what can you show me, That my heart don’t know already, We make our own sins and you’re qualified to me, What can you show me, That my heart don’t know already, We make our own sense! And you’re qualified And you’re qualified!” This is the arrangement until mid-track with the thematic chant that exclaims, “And now that we’re all grown up, Who do we owe it to, And now that we’ve gone this far, Who do we owe it all too, We did it unknown, No we’re coming for the throne, We did it unknown, Now we’re coming for the throne, And now that we all came up, do we lose? Do we lose?” Then the track proceeds to morph itself into a remix reminiscent of a big band swing composition.
In “Prisoner” Abel and Lana Del Ray serenade each other over the classic eargasmic sound that has set TheWeeknd apart and ahead of his peers by diving deeper into realms of emotion seldom traveled these days. Abel explains this in the first verse, “You bring good to my lonely life, honestly
It’s hard for me to look into your eyes
When, I say that I would be nothing without your love
I feel the rush and it’s amazing!” This leaves a vixen of Lana’s caliber only to reply in the second verse, “I think I’ve been in Hollywood for too long
Cause I can feel my soul burning, feel it burning slow
But I would be nothing without the touch
I feel the rush and it’s amazing!” The hook explains it all in an excruciating confession of, “I’m a prisoner to my addiction
I’m addicted to a life that’s so empty and so cold
I’m a prisoner to my decisions
Woooo, woooo, woooo!”
Then alongside Ed Sheeran, Abel executes a track that can not be described any other way other way but, pure blues wrapped inside of post-apocalyptic acoustics from a simple guitar and echoing drums with lyrics that seeming tell the story two men fighting with themselves and each other over a woman they could never deserve and their continuous fall back to their “Dark Times.”
The remainder of the tracks that fill the frenzy that is Beauty Behind The Madness are signature of TheWeeknd style. Stories of fallen women he may have well corrupted in “In The Night” and “Angel.” The toxic crooning he seems to have a monopoly on in “Aquainted” and “Shameless.” And if you really weren’t aware of the kind of man Abel Tesfaye has become in his journey as the prime purveyor of his stage moniker, TheWeeknd, you will be thoroughly reminded in “Tell Your Friends” and “Real Life!”
So now we all can clearly see that three days are certainly not enough to tell the stories of our lives. I guess that the Beauty Behind The Madness will open up the door to where everyday feels like TheWeeknd!