26 Aug 11
Let us get one thing straight – I am a sad person. My life is full of disappointment. Because of this, I am bitter and angry. I look upon life with a cynical eye, much like the gay one in ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’. That’s why The Weeknd seems like a perfect match for me – an emulation of fleeting pop R&B which can’t help but seem a bit cynical, a bit over-stylised. I don’t know whether that’s intentional; maybe The Weeknd is a sincere attempt at radio R&B a lá The-Dream by its creator, one Abel Tesfaye. Frankly, that wouldn’t bother me, as, being as white as I am, I am an avid listener of campy 90s New Jack Swing and high-sheen modern R&B records. Now, if you’ve quite recovered from the Campest Confession of the Year 2011 then feel free to move your eyes towards the floor and read the other words that I did today write.
The first thing one will notice while taking a dip into the caramel-soft pool that is this particular mix tape is the production – it’s glossier and more professional than other albums which attempt to craft an experimental new strain of R&B; although that isn’t hard when you take into consideration How To Dress Well’s fuzz-pop epic ‘Love Remains’ is counted amongst them. In a market saturated by hazy, reverb-drenched noise pop girl groups it is refreshing to actually be able to hear the wealth of noises and sounds put into ‘Thursday’. That said, it is separated from generic R&B by one thing – the harshness that is at times very obvious. Many of the tracks are filled with doom, partly due to the sometimes violent-sounding production. The title track drums off in a funeral march, all of your hope drifting of as the track goes on and Tesfaye’s moans and pleas become more desperate and, ultimately, sensual.
Don’t worry about being seduced by him, though, as if you listen to his lyrics you’ll soon come to hate him; he brags about his heavy use of cocaine (one of the few things me and ol’ Abe have in common), forcing girls into group sex scenarios, and about how he’s more or less a sociopathic rapist. This is a stark contrast to a lot of modern R&B, where the storyteller is more likely to weave tales of unrequited love and The One. In fairness, songs like ‘Rolling Stone’ do evoke some sympathy, where he sings about his loss of anonymity and self-loathing, threatening to smoke weed until he ‘can’t hit another note’, something else which we share.
‘Rolling Stone’ opens with urgent-sounding bursts of noise – it certainly isn’t the ‘Merzbox’, but it’s hardly the sort of introduction you’d find on Heart.fm. Imagine a much more aggressive version of the bursts of feedback that opened Lady GaGa’s ‘Dance in the Dark’, if you’re not too cool to listen to pop music. ‘Heaven or Las Vegas’, unfortunately not a Cocteau Twin’s cover, contains twisted screeches. You feel like you could have very angry sex to this record, imagine; you’ve been married to someone for about sixteen years and, after two children, the magic just disappeared. You hate each other. Your violent rows force your sixteen year-old son to look for comfort in music journalism and coke and— oh, sorry, where was I?
Abe’s voice twists and soars in different directions throughout the record – he’s excellent at emoting and injecting a certain doe=-eyed innocence into the filthy tales that he spins. His voice seems to swim alongside the ambient synths that occupy the spaces between the metallic drums and gentle bleeps and bloops that pitter patter the reverb. He is often compared to The-Dream, and understandably so, but at times his vocals resemble the hushed tones of Devonte Hynes in his latest Blood Orange project.
It is the darker production and more seductive feel to this mixtape which really appeals – I will confess that I was not a massive fan of The Weeknd’s earlier work, but I was roped in by the steady tribal throb of the title track, which reminded me of Kanye West’s autotune’d classic ‘Love Lockdown’, another favourite. After ‘Thursday’ finished, I had to go back for more. Fuck cocaine, The Weeknd is my new shameful addiction.
For fans of: The-Dream, How To Dress Well, Autre Ne Veut, Frank Ocean, James Blake, Active Child, Blood Orange