The Weeknd's major-label debut brings changes, but don't worry: he's still both high and sad.
When we first talked about The Weeknd back in 2011, he was a shadowy, mysterious figure whose airy, druggy, slightly Gothic take on R&B was like a breath of fresh air in a genre that had become limited and stale. Two and a half years later, Scarborough-born Abel Tesfaye is one of Toronto’s biggest musical stars, and the face of a genre known as PBR&B.
Kiss Land is his major-label debut. (Last year’s Universal release, Trilogy, was little more than a repackaging of old mixtape material.) In many ways, it’s exactly what you’d expect from The Weeknd. It’s still very dark; he’s still living in a world filled with drugs, strippers, and money; and he’s still sad about the whole thing.
Some things, however, are quite different. Kiss Land has Tesfaye experimenting more with the big, clear, almost Michael Jackson-esque tenor that he started working with on Echoes of Silence. On “Odd Look” and “Wanderlust,” the weird, spacy rasp that made him famous in the first place is almost completely absent.
The album has a much bigger, fuller sound than any of The Weeknd’s previous releases. As much as we all love the level of democracy that free-to-web mixtapes have brought to the music industry, Kiss Land is proof that all the beat-making software in the world still can’t replicate what you can do with a studio and a budget. The big, rich, string-filled sound of “Belong to the World” or the multi-layered, overdubbed “Tears in the Rain,” for example, are things you can’t do at home.
There are even a couple of songs on here that border on danceable. The Pharrell remix of “Wanderlust” still has traces of the disco fever that Pharrell picked up working with Daft Punk. “Odd Look,” a collaboration with French house producer Kavinsky, has a sort of mid-tempo hypnotic feel that makes hips sway. (You can listen to “Odd Look” by clicking on the sample above.)
Kiss Land manages to bring in the dark, atmospheric vibes that made The Weeknd famous in the first place, while still adding in new elements. It’s not perfect—the first two tracks are longer and duller than would be ideal—but it’s still a pretty damn solid major-label debut.