The Weeknd - Starboy
The Weeknd’s fourth album see’s his sound evolve and change once again resulting in ‘STARBOY’ his most cohesive project yet, a blend of 80’s synthpop, smooth R&B and slick beats.
It was only last year that The Weeknd (a.k.a. Abél Tesfaye) released his epic Beauty Behind The Madness which saw him escape from the shadows and burst into the mainstream, it was a very dark and conflicted album which left you unsure at what direction he was trying to take with it as he blended sure fire radio smashes (“Can’t Feel My Face”, “In The Night”) with moody, bleak ballads (“Acquainted”, “Angel).
Pop as a genre in 2016 feels like a dirty word, it seems hard to be taken as a serious artist yet release catchy songs with meaning, The Weeknd however seems to overcome this situation, instead of mixing dark ballads and catchy songs over the course of an album resulting in a identity crisis, he’s blended his moody drug filled lyrics with catchy beats, the result is some of his best material, an album that is not just scarily bleak in it’s content but insanely memorable and easily accessible to a casual audience.
It seems Abél was also fully aware of this and in a remarkable feat has created both a whole new persona and project in under a year, a move which came about after controversially ditching Rihanna’s European tour this year as well as forgoing any form of touring behind BBTM to instead return to the studio and create new material, The result of this is not just an album but in a throwback to the likes of Bowie, a whole new identity, gone are the iconic locks and humbleness, they’ve been replaced by a bold and bragging Starboy!
You've probably heard album opener and title single ‘Starboy’ everywhere by now, it’s memorable just for the fact that notorious recluses Daft Punk have provided their name to the track that in itself should tell you all about just how solid of a song it is, The electronic masters have crafted some truly infectious backing beats, It’s The Weeknd but handmade for the dance floor with a result a lot better then Disclosure’s attempts last year
It’s also our first appearance of the titular persona, by creating the Starboy it has allowed Abel to go all out egotistical in his lyrics as he brags of his new found fame and wealth. This new guy on the scene is more than happy to tell you about his grossly high salary, expensive cars and large amount of women that surround him every night.
This new attitude Is not a one-off or gimmick either and remains a frequent presence throughout the album itself, second track ‘Party Monster’ see’s the Weeknd sing extensively about his womanising ways with the song’s hook all about being “woke up by a girl, didn’t even know her name”, later on a woman’s ghostly call’s of “paranoid” fill the second half of the track, these are from none other than Lana Del Rey, referenced later on in the album (in a forgettable small segment) as his ‘Stargirl’ It is however clear to see just how much these two bounce off each other throughout the album and just how eerily similar each stars styles are to each other, you definitely feel that one couldn’t exist without the other, a true match for one and other.
Previously released preview track ‘False Alarm’ is thankfully a one-off, as by the songs halfway point you’ll find The Weeknd’s efforts to scream during the chorus more than grating to say the least. The quality picks straight back up though with ‘Reminder’ which is exactly what it says it is, a brutal reminder to all the pretenders that The Weeknd is still the original and not a quick sellout, it shows that even he is amazed by his own success but not afraid to come after his critics.
‘Rockin’ unfortunately comes off as forgettable, it’s ‘False Alarms’ high falsetto pitched cousin, a sex-filled song that lacks any deep purpose whilst being filled with meaningless lyrics, all being plastered over with thick drum beats, it comes across as annoyingly commercial.
The following few tracks on the album however are nothing short of masterful, starting with the 80’s infused disco smash that is ‘Secrets’ I can’t praise this song enough, it feels very reminiscent of both Prince and MJ in the way it’s devilishly smooth and I’m yet to hear anyone that isn’t instantly dancing or singing along to it.
‘True Colours’ see’s The Weeknd testing out just how high his iconic falsetto can reach, it’s starts out life as a slow jam but becomes something else entirely when Abel flexes out his vocals during the chorus, just wait to you hear him hit those first “truuuuuuuueee colours” notes and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
The stretch of stellar tracks climax in the fantastic ‘Sidewalks’ which see’s The Weeknd rapping pure heat in the initial verses “Homeless to Forbes list” is easily a lyrical highlight, before the soulful chorus sinks in followed by a verse from the current king of rap Kendrick Lamar himself who could have easily phoned in his verse but instead we are treated to a very tailored crucial element that completely elevates the track.
The fourth and final feature on the album comes in the form of Future, he makes two appearances first of which is on ‘Six Feet Under’ (which is sure to be blowing up clubs in the coming months) but it’s the second time he shows up (credited this time) on “All I Know” that he stands out. managing to surprise by not just featuring on a ballad but by turning the track from what could have been just a good one to a fantastic track, his deep gravely voice contrasts brilliantly with Abel’s high pitched pleas during the chorus and his verse (like Kendrick’s earlier on) is a crucial element, every feature is well thought through by The Weeknd and are their for a reason not just to put another name on the track list.
Unfortunately when you release an album that has a staggering 18 tracks, you risk the chance of having ones that fail to stand out and STARBOY is no different, this is no more apparent than during the album’s second half which features the forgettable filler ‘Die For You’, ‘Nothing Without You’ and ‘Oridnary Life’ which all end up feeling annoyingly similar.
However for every piece of filler in the second half is a stellar gem just waiting to be heard, none more so than the pure Motown inspired epic that is ‘A Lonely Night’ with it’s funky beats, backing vocals and slick guitars all mixed in with a Billie Jean-esque chorus, as you listen to Abel sing of wanting a woman purely for a night one stand you’d be easily mistaken in thinking you were listening to early MJ (and that’s not a bad thing at all!). ‘Love To Lay’ follows the same format as early album epic ‘Secrets’ with a series of slow building verses before an explosive chorus unsurprisingly it’s just as effective.
The album concludes with the absolute epic that is ‘I Feel It Coming’, I previewed the track a few weeks before release, I praised it’s catchiness and The Weeknd’s silky vocals not to mention Daft Punk’s effortless talent for creating a killer backing track, it’s safe to say that despite my hundred’s of listen’s to the track since It still feels as fresh as when It was initially released.
It’s a joyous end to one of this years best R&B albums, it’s not perfect by any means and perhaps by shortening the album length by condensing out the filler then it could have been a stronger record but as it stand’s STARBOY has a few low points but some truly almighty highs…