The Weeknd 'After Hours' Review: R&B star's fourth album is a cosmic journey of isolation and tenderness
The Weeknd has released his eagerly-anticipated new album 'After Hours' on March 20. The exciting new studio entry follows the Canadian singer's third critically-acclaimed platinum album 'Starboy' which released in 2016.
The Weekend, originally Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, has quickly risen as a formidable contemporary R&B artist since his first appearance in 2010 when he anonymously uploaded several songs on YouTube. Apart from producing numerous chart-topping hits such as 'The Hills', 'Can't Feel My Face', 'I Feel it Coming' and 'Starboy', the 30-year-old singer has won three Grammy Awards amongst a list of nominations. In 2015, The Weeknd won the Grammy Award for Best 'R&B Performance' for his single 'Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey)' as well as 'Best Urban Contemporary Album' for his sophomore LP 'Beauty Behind The Madness'.
The Weeknd has collaborated with numerous heavyweight artists including Beyoncé on her song '6 Inch', Travis Scott on 'Pray 4 Love', Drake, French Montana, Future and more. In 2018, The Weeknd also worked with Kendrick Lamar on the third single 'Pray For Me' from the soundtrack album of the Marvel film 'Black Panther'.
The transcendent new album comes as a perfect companion to those seeking to traverse cosmic plains in musical fantasy with its atmospheric electronic themes while cooped up at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although 'After Hours' comes off as subtly lighter than its counterparts at first, The Weeknd uses the album's moniker to present something a little more sultry. In a list of songs with names that immediately daunt as melancholic in their wording, 'After Hours' presents an ethereal escape with airy, otherworldly songs that are rather gentle at their emotional core. The experience draws attention to the lyrics, using the cybernetic synth and instruments to cleverly beep signals at every vocal accentuation. Usually, acoustic percussions are a common way to steer the high and low emotions in music, but The Weeknd's new album takes it to the next level and electrifies listeners with digital beats and textures.
The 14-track album opens with 'Alone Again' and we are immediately ejected out into a celestial space. 'Alone Again' uses rich, futuristic electronics to keep you suspended in music that leaves an emotion of sensory isolation as The Weeknd sings "Take off my disguise. I'm living someone else's life. Suppressing who I was inside. So I throw 2,000 ones in the sky. Together we're alone (Together we're alone)".
The first few songs carry a similar ambiance forward and in 'Hardest to Love', we find an unusual companionship between drum and bass music and a ballad. Amid broad, warm, synths and strings, a dubstep-infused drum and bass beat plays out at near double-tempo to the melody. Playing out like a stuck vinyl record, the beat quickly glitches at several points with The Weeknd masterfully adjusting his vocal rhythms.
Although the album makes careful use of its electronics, 'After Hours' subtly draws listeners to older genre ancestors in the musical evolution. In 'Snowchild', The Weeknd draws upon his R&B roots. On this track, we get an R&B beat amid the background electronic music. In the second verse he sings, "She like my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship. Futuristic sex give her Phillip K dick. She never need a man, she what a man need. So I keep on falling for her daily".
One of the new album's harder tracks 'Heartless' was released as the album's lead single in November. The track kicks off strong with a thick beat as The Weeknd rips at his listeners with explicit lyrics. Searching for deeper meaning and “trying to find the one that can fix me”, The Weeknd sings, “‘Cause I’m heartless/And I’m back to my ways ’cause I’m heartless. All this money and this pain’s got me heartless… Said I’m heartless, tryin’ to be a better man, but I’m heartless".
Although the new album gears toward a more personal side of The Weeknd, with gentle atmospherics and themes, it is clear the artist has aptly translated the mix of R&B and electronic as the world embraces the digital future.
Read a review on 'Blinding Lights', the second single from 'After Hours' here.