Right, quick poll: before Earned It, can anyone name us a track by The Weeknd? Or anything from Kiss Land? Probably not because, let’s face it, barring the first few doses of the first mixtape (and maybe The Birds double) Abel Tesfaye is horrendously overrated. Here is a man in possession of a voice that some – not us – have compared to Michael Jackson, and yet chooses to squander it on bedwetting R&B under the cloak of “atmospheric” electronica.
In truth, Beauty Behind The Madness is as dull as fuck. We know we’re beginning to sound like we have a personal vendetta against Tesfaye, but our criticisms come more from a point of frustration. It takes three tracks for The Weeknd to do something of note: Real Life and Labrinth (eh?) featuring Losers – no comment – plod along in a viscous mess of over-production and that typically overwrought singing, before Tesfaye surprises us for a moment on the jazz-leaning R&B of Tell Your Friends.
But then, of course, he ruins any good work or half-decent tune by reminding us he doesn’t actually have anything of note to say. Example: “everybody ’round you is so basic/ I’m never rockin’ white, I’m like a racist/ I don’t drink my liquor with a chase in/ That money is the only thing I’m chasing”. Jesus wept, if this came from a 15 year-old’s notebook we wouldn’t be surprised. Oh, and the less said about “pussy poppin'” ode Often, the better.
It’s also becoming increasingly apparent that The Weeknd is an act best served as a puppet for pop written by other people, but aspires to be something way more credible (which he then contradicts with mediocre duets alongside Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey, in a move that demonstrates what happens when one willingly allows cultural appropriation). This all might explain why 95% of his own scripture falls flat – As You Are is the only one we wouldn’t euthanise – compared to the two full-on pop gems from Max Martin. Can’t Feel My Face is a deserving chart-topper, while In The Night really is like a modern MJ song in the vein of Leave Me Alone… till that goodwill is pissed on by embarrassing 80s power ballad Angel.
Quelle surprise, then, that all of our issues with The Weeknd haven’t been solved by wads of money, as Beauty Behind The Madness is basically an extrapolation of the stagnant doldrums introduced on Kiss Land. If you want proper R&B, go to The Internet or Dornik. If you want to see someone taking those tropes to become a pop superstar, listen to Nick Jonas. As it stands, The Weeknd falls painfully in between, and the struggle to find any beauty behind this madness is akin to chipping off dry paint from a brick wall.
Beauty Behind The Madness by The Weeknd can be ordered here. But honestly, we’d rather you give your money to someone who actually deserves it.