The Weeknd suffers from success on his proper debut LP
In 2011, The Weeknd released a trifecta of damn-near-perfect mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) and scored a rare cosign from Drake, all the while shrouding himself with an aura of mystery. The singer (real name Abel Tesfaye) became the overnight face of emo, drugged-out R&B, despite the fact that most fans didn’t even know what he looked like.
Now markedly richer and more famous, Kiss Land finds The Weeknd suffering from success.
“So you’re somebody now/But what’s a somebody in a nobody town?” he asks on his debut’s opener, “Professional.” If Trilogy memorialized the hedonism and excess of a 21-year-old loft partying it up with models in Toronto, Kiss Land is a rambling day after letter to the city (and women) he’s left behind. Woozy drug references and hypersexual trysts are more subdued, cut by yearning, loneliness and regret. On “The Town,” he coos, ““I haven’t been around my town in a long while. I apologize, but I’ve been trying to get this money like I gotta couple kids who rely on me.”
Vocally, The Weeknd is in fighting form. He still invokes his Michael Jackson-tinged timbre and chilling falsettos, but the singer’s voice has a newfound confidence. “You will never feel so pretty. You will never feel this beautiful,” he sings with defiant overtness on “Pretty.”
At times, The Weeknd is just a kid who wants things to go back to how they used to be. He wanders. “I lay my head on a thousand beds…I chose the life, then I realized she might have been the one,” he cries on “Adaptation.” The rumored $7 million major label deal the singer scored clearly carries a hefty price tag.
Drake, someone who can relate to the woes of the nouveau riche, aptly serves as Kiss Land's sole feature. The sultry “Live For,” is a nice follow-up to “The Zone,” as both expats trade verses about the good life from endless income to threesome offers. “She just offered a strip tease, but she don't look like Demi Moore/Hips all on 45, waist all on 24/And it's all love in the city, still scream XO, when that Henny pour” Drake raps in yet another song-stealing verse (For those keeping tally at home, the rapper is batting 1.000 this year.)
Success takes a sonic toll on Kiss Land as producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo, who helped create the original lush, haunting signature on House of Balloons and Thursday, are not present. The result is a starker sound with no catchy hooks or radio-friendly singles. There’s no hypnotic “High For This” or “Gone” nor are there interesting samples as heard on tracks like “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls.” This may be Kiss Land’s biggest deterrent and leave fans wondering if The Weeknd is ditching his roots.
As for him, The Weeknd doesn’t really seem to care. “This ain’t nothing to relate to even if you try,” he states matter-of-factly on the album’s title track. And why should he? The Weeknd has been in control since the beginning and Kiss Land reflects that. Hate it or love it. —Sowmya Krishnamurthy