Looking at the sleeve, we can say one thing straight away: relax, Abel, you don’t need to hold your head in your hands. Starboy is nowhere near as bad as your last album. But it is pretty bad.
In fact, The Weeknd‘s new record adequately summarises what we’ve known for a long time: when it comes to Abel Tesfaye, we all played ourselves from the moment the second mixtape dropped. Here’s a man who literally has nothing new to say with every successive release, peddling the same concoction of hedonism and regret under the guise of a once-cool R&B star.
The truth is, Tesfaye has probably always had bigger, MJ-sized aspirations in mind (we’re not even going to dignify the title with any sort of Bowie comparison), and he’s certainly played the game well enough to get closer to that lane. Not that we’re ever comparing the two – this album proves that he has centuries before we’d even mention him in the same breath – but the tenacity of spirit and of course that falsetto certainly seem inspired from the King of Pop at times. A Lonely Night is certainly where he comes achingly close, both an album and career highlight.
Pop’s such a loaded word these days though, and Tesfaye makes mixed-result stabs at it all. If the title track enlists Daft Punk for something slightly more elevated than his norm, Party Monster pisses on its own title by being a dull drone of a song with repetitive old lyrics. But hey, consistency has never been this singles-artist’s strong point and that’s clear as a series of eye-roll efforts like False Alarm, Reminder, and True Colours. Especially that last one, where Tesfaye seems to think he’s Tom Krell for some reason. Spare us, please.
And even when he ventures to more exciting territory, it falls flat. Secrets seems utterly sexless, a bland and uninterested delivery that fails to match the spike of its production; meanwhile Rockin‘ seems new for a commercial market, but the truth is this sort of hybrid jam is being made by HypeM bait on the daily.And with it all, Tesfaye’s crime is the same: you just don’t believe a single word he’s saying. Sidewalks is full of vocoded potholes, Six Feet Under seems misguidedly cheery, and in a mountain of guff there are very few memorable songs.
That’s also partly due to The Weeknd forging an entire career out of being overwrought, applying it to pretty much every emotion to the point that whenever he cries wolf now it’s hard to know when it’s genuine. In that respect he’s sort of achieved his version of a pop album: not the second coming it thinks it is, but rather something much more transient, transparent, and really rather forgettable.