Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Author: Sam Seliger
Photo courtesy of: Republic Records
The Weeknd’s latest album is, for the most part, a successful return to an earlier sound.
For several weeks, Toronto R&B singer The Weeknd (Abel Tesafaye) posted messages implying he would be releasing music soon. On March 30, Tesafaye delivered, with his new tape “My Dear Melancholy.” The six-song tape straddled the line between EP (a shorter record of about 3-5 songs) and LP (a full-length record) and attempted to straddle the line between the dark, introspective sound of his early days and the mainstream success of his more recent work.
Produced by a variety of A-listers, including Mike WiLL Made-It and EMD star Skrillex, MDM was mellower than 2016’s club-worthy “Starboy,” but still less so than his initial mixtapes. The beats featured few samples, something that has become somewhat standard post-trilogy. Tesafaye was smart enough to ditch the club-worthy bounce and booming bass of his previous album. He settles instead for a more muted sound falling somewhere in between that of 2015’s “Beauty Behind the Madness” (“BBTM”) and 2013’s “Kiss Land,” far better suited for the tone of drug-fueled break-up sex and dark pillowtalk his music so often evokes.
At only six tracks, it avoids the inconsistency that has plagued his prior albums, as well as the lengthy clutter so common in the unnecessarily long albums popular at the moment. By sacrificing length, Tesafaye allows his best tracks to shine clearly, without filler to distract the listener. The majority of the songs could hold their own as singles, and they benefit from this clarity by getting to shine without having to stand out among the clutter.
The album opens with “Call Out My Name,” a song that may or may not be about ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez, which has Tesafaye floating over gentle piano before the throbbing bass comes in. Despite its intensity at the chorus reminiscent of “Beauty Behind the Madness,” “Call Out My Name" remains a relatively mellow song and lets the emotions really hit home—the echoing 808 drums and distorted vocals only adding to the haze.
This dark, woozy pillowtalk is classic Weeknd, even if it sounds much like all the other R&B on the radio. What’s different here is that the emotions feel more authentic. While on “Starboy” and “BBTM,” Tesafaye often seems detached and uninvested in what he is saying, and the mood of the lyrics often does not match the beats, this time his pleas seem just as true as his testimonials on “Trilogy.”
Although the second track, “Try Me,” falls in the same vein, the middle of the album is weaker. “Wasted Times” and “I Was Never There” feel like Tesafaye’s recent work, attempting to merge his dark pillowtalk with something fit for the club. The problem is that these two concepts do not merge well. These songs make you want neither to cry nor dance, and they feel forced.
With the last two songs, however, Tesafaye gets back on track. Starting with a low-fi beat before expanding into a percussive backing, “Hurt You” features a BBTM-esq melody worthy of radio play. The final track, “Privilege” is a dark ballad, replete with strings and mellow synthesizers.
While “My Dear Melancholy,” is certainly a return to form for the Weeknd, it fails to break any new ground. His lyrics, unique and personal when he broke onto the scene back in 2011, have failed to grow since. The rest of the world has caught up and copied. The themes have become unoriginal, almost cliche. The songs themselves are good, but they are not innovative.
Part of why “Melancholy” seems so good is that The Weeknd’s more recent work has been hit-or-miss. Tesafaye takes few risks, refuses to venture into uncharted territory or even old styles. While this could have made for a bizarre, hit-or-miss tape, it could have also made for something innovative and new. “My Dear Melancholy,” while a quality album, leaves the listener wondering if it could have been so much more.