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The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy Review

April 4, 2018 | Posted by David Hayter
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The Weeknd – My Dear Melancholy Review  

1. Call Out My Name
2. Try Me
3. Wasted Times
4. I Was Never There
5. Hurt You
6. Privilege

Well this is curious. The Weeknd, the mixtape kingpin turned global pop phenomenon, has dropped a six track EP completely out of the blue. Despite featuring production from Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, avant garde electronic icon Nicholas Jaar and hip hop hit maker Mike WILL Made-It, this project does not showcase the lurid Canadian’s new direction nor is it an overhang from his recent projects. Instead, My Dear Melancholy serves as a bold reassertion (and subtle evolution) of The Weeknd’s core tenets.

Abel Tasfaye (aka The Weeknd) has never exactly strayed from the songwriting formula that made him the apple of Pitchfork’s eye back in 2012. He’s always lived in a world of fast love and blurred lines: lovers are ruthlessly jettisoned, fleetingly embraced and fucked while high as a kite. At his best, The Weeknd is an experiential singer. On 2012’s “High For This” the listener took his hand as they swallowed a pill and melted into sordid and darkly sensual world. In The Weeknd’s world the moment is always king and, in that moment, Abel truly loves, desires and inhabits the person who lies beside him – whether these feelings linger a day (or even an hour later) is another matter entirely.

My Dear Meloncholy, while glossier and more sharply focused than his wonderfully murky mixtapes, is a return to this dark shadowplay where pleasure and peril go hand in hand – but with one crucial twist. Where once The Weeknd was the progtagnist breaking hearts and scuppering loving relationships, he now finds himself twisting on the vine as his lovers begin to run rings around him. His own hedonism now leaves deep wounds upon his moral psyche.

It’s a double edge sword.  Feeling suicidal on “I Was Never There”, Abel strains “you’d rather something toxic, so I’ll poison myself” as he begins to lose his mind to carnal and chemical delights, but he’s no longer doing this for pleasure (“it’s all because of you”). “Hurt You” flips the script. His lover is now on the verge of taking her life as she dives into the hands of every man she sees in an attempt to punish (and perhaps recapture the thrill of fucking) The Weeknd. He has no sympathy. He still ruthlessly seeks pleasure. He will hurt her, but, unlike before, he doesn’t want to be doing this. His pleasure is now laced with psychological pain. When he sings, “Just call me up again, I’ll make you weak/I’ll put myself between your legs, not your heart/can’t you see?”, it it less a boast a more an admission that he can no longer restrain himself.

These two seemingly contradictory tracks play back-to-back and are magnificently merged by crafty and long lingering production. The seething, screaming electronic drill that anchors the lost at sea sonics of “I Was Never There” carries over into “Hurt You” in the form of a gentle siren cry that slowly fades into a cold hip hop beat. It’s a masterstroke of production. You can literally hear The Weeknd’s anger dissipate as he switches from prey to predator. The sonic malaise that threatens to drown Abel’s wonderful lead vocal performance on “I Was Never There” is washed away as he rides high on “Hurt You”. This is subtle stuff, courtesy of Gesaffelstein (who is credited as a featured artist) and Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel.

Suffice to say, despite featuring a collection of high profile collaborators, this project is more House Of Ballons than Starboy. “Call Out My Name” captures this essence as these monstrous sonic slabs of sound decay and audibly crumble, even as they are raised to preposterous heights. The Weeknd is rarely able to find solid footing. He’s either being dragged beneath the surface or hurled in the face of these grand distorted facades. That’s not to say that Abel is a mere passenger, far from it. He makes great use of his prodigious vocal: when his voice is at its most supressed and fractured, he comes soaring out of the ether sounding like the crystal clear lovechild of MJ and R Kelly.

“Why can’t you wait till I fall out of love?” That question, which he asks on the album opener, proves crucial. The Weeknd is now wounded on two levels. He hates to be treated as a “pit stop” and he hates himself for straying time and time again. Interestingly, his underlying abhorrent nature still persists. He’s not really concerned about his current lover. If the unnamed seductress were his and his alone, he wouldn’t feel the psychological guilt of cheating. He wants to have his cake and eat it too, protecting his ego in the process.

Now, while there is plenty of excitement to be found on his conflicted and illusive collection, it’s worth pointing out that it doesn’t contain any obvious hits. There’s no “I Can’t Feel My Face” nor is there a deep or more brooding answer to “High For This” or “Wicked Games”. Instead, the album’s poppiest moment come in form of the softer, more skittish and European influenced “Wasted Times”. This is The Weeknd attempting to put on a brave face (“I ain’t got no business catching feelings”) as he yearns for his ex. It’s charming, slight and unremarkable until its stunning coda revels itself. In a soft and vulnerable tone, Abel coos, “I don’t want to wake up, if you ain’t laying next to me”. Maybe he’s not so repellent after all?

Disappointingly, “Try Me” is the kind of effort that relies on the listener being entirely immersed within The Weeknd’s shadowy headspace and soupy sonics. On it’s own merits, the track’s hook is too repetitive and under baked to warrant much praise, but it’s fine as a tonal piece full of vocal riffing and decaying structures.

The closing track “Privilege” suffers a similar fate. It’s a fractured and slight composition, marked by its more spacious and skeletal production. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect endnote for the project as it shows The Weeknd visibly willing himself to return to his old ways (he has two bad bitches and two pills on hand to take the pain away). Or as he puts it, “Imma fuck the pain away and I know I’m gonna be okay”. These seem like the words of a man steeped in denial. His suspicions mirrors our own: he hopes that hedonism will take away his pain and self-doubt, but hardly sounds confident.

This is no happy ending, even if it appears so on the surface. The Weeknd of old has returned! Fans rejoice! But read between the lines and we see a serial womanizer finally stung by feelings that he once believed himself impervious to. His return to the sound of his career defining Trilogy is therefore not a triumphant one; he arrives with his tail tucked between his legs and with his body covered in battle scares. In this light, My Dear Meloncholy not only sounds fantastic (if a touch dated) with its shadowy submersive murk, but comes wrapped in rich narrative and complex emotion.

Where once The Weeknd was an active protagonist seeking joy, he is now a heartbroken passenger, using designer drugs and fast women like a patient, chained to a sick bed, desperately tapping to top up his diazepam.

At six tracks in length, My Dear Melancholy is too slight and under-developed to score top marks, but it nevertheless stands as an essential departure point in The Weeknd’s once one-dimensional story.

The final score: review Good
The 411
The Weeknd returns to the sordid House Of Balloons on My Dear Melancholy, but he is no longer here for carnal delight and otherworldly highs – he’s trying to numb the pain that he has no doubt inflicted on so many of his ex-lovers. It’s a thrilling narrative twist that makes this slight EP more interesting than its constituent elements.

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The Weeknd, David Hayter