Projected to sell somewhere around 350,000 units in its first week of sale, The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness will definitely be the definitive album of the fall.
In conjunction with a fiery performance at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, a collaborative photoshoot for Kanye West’s Yeezy Season One Adidas clothing line, and features with the likes of Sia and Ariana Grande, Abel Tesfaye has made the transition from brooding indie artist, to burgeoning pop star.
A follow up to his 2013 debut album Kiss Land, The Weeknd capitalized on the commercial success of “Earned It” (the lead single from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack), and “Love Me Harder” (a pop-leaning duet with Ariana Grande), tapping on Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey to lend their vocals to the 14-track project, while enlisting Kanye to provide some production work.
Thank you @kanyewest for pushing me to be the greatest I can be. You are endless inspiration and wisdom. So much more magic ahead.
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) August 28, 2015
Madness deviates from the expansive 8-minute alt operas that permeated The Weeknd’s earlier work on Trilogy (a compilation of his initial mixtapes: House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence), as well as from the industrial-inspired Kiss Land, rather choosing to expand on the brooding elements and darker vibes that made The Weeknd an overnight success. There are notable moments where the influences of Michael Jackson strongly come across, especially on “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In The Night”. Despite their vocal similarities, the King of Pop and Mr. XO could not be further from similar. Whereas Jackson was bred from birth to become the international superstar that he still is – even in death – Tesfaye seemed to come out of nowhere, an unknown force that helped fellow Canadian Drake steamroll into the spotlight.
Despite being covered by the likes of Stevie Wonder at a recent show, and joining Taylor Swift at one of the stops on her 1989 World Tour, The Weeknd maintains his alternative R&B aesthetic, while incorporating fresh elements. Madness starts out as one would expect – dark, brooding, self-abusing – moves quickly into “Losers” (which features British singer-songwriter Labrinth), a bluesy, piano-driven which culminates in a full big band climax at the end. A telltale piano sample kicks off the new Kanye-produced single “Tell Your Friends”, which serves as a look back over The Weeknd’s career thus far.
The first-heard tracks from the album come in succession, as “Often”, “The Hills”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, and “Earned It” nearly follow one another. An interesting mix of singles, each song shows a different side of the Canadian singer: the seductioner, the fiendish partier, the stricken lover, and passionate romantic.
He revs up the sex on “Acquainted”, which sounds more like Trilogy than anything else on the album, full of trademark high notes, coupled with pitched samples and colorful descriptions. “Shameless” also gives the notion of House of Balloons, due to its introspective content and vulnerability present in The Weeknd’s voice through the track.
The two A-list features on the album, “Dark Times” (with Ed Sheeran) and “Prisoner” (with Lana Del Rey) showcase The Weeknd as an artist that’s able to not only hold his own, but also able to branch out and dabble in other genres with ease. On “Dark Times”, both men play off each other unexpectedly well, Sheeran’s soulful voice providing a perfect contrast to Abel’s expansive range. “Prisoner” is the perfect song for The Weeknd and Lana to converge their talents upon. Both artists thrive in similar realms of alternative, shadowy, ethereal music – allowing them to paint a picture upon the tinkling piano chords.
Album closer “Angel” is the perfect finale to the project, effectively trailing the work into whatever comes next. Metaphorically, the song feels similar to climbing a mountain, and at the top, looking over the cliff into the wide expanse of horizon that presents itself. The Weeknd questions whether or not his lover will find someone who can love her on the cinematic track, which ends in a call and response with newcomer Maty Noyes, who provides a spot-on Lana Del Rey imitation.
While the album does sound much more commercial (read as, “polished”) than some of his earlier works, The Weeknd that used to shy away from public performances and hide behind his music is still present, although now, that humility has been exchanged for earned confidence. Beauty Behind The Madness will please diehard Weeknd fans, while entertaining those newcomers that recently discovered him. Fame has not changed Tesfaye, who still sings about his vices of women and recreational drug usage, although, due to fame, is now on a much bigger scale.
He’s earned it.
Standout Tracks – “Angel”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, “Tell Your Friends”, “Losers”
Release Date: August 28, 2015
Label: The Weeknd XO, Inc.
Format: Digital, CD