When I first became aware of The Weeknd I wanted no part of it. The spelling? No Thnks. Performing at the VMAs? Yeah, that’s cool, to a sixteen-year-old. The Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack? More like Fifty shades of Go Away. Then I heard the song “Can’t Feel My Face” on the radio. At first I was like, “This is terrible.” Then the chorus dropped. By the end, I was grooving so hard I almost crashed my car into a ravine. For those not familiar with the process of streamcutting erosion, a ravine is a deep, narrow gorge with steep sides.
Beauty Behind the Madness is the second album from Canadian-born artist Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd. Breaking out in 2012 after some buzzy mixtapes, The Weeknd slowly took over the airwaves with a sound Wikipedia has labeled “PBR&B,” a portmanteau of Pabst Blue Ribbon and R&B. I really want to punch whoever came up with that. Though I get it. The Weeknd isn’t easy to categorize. Even at his most mainstream, “Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd sounds like Michael Jackson covering “Fly Like an Eagle.” Though isn’t that all we’ve ever wanted?
There’s some infectious beats backing The Weeknd’s delicate delivery, but there’s also some scary-as-sh*t sounding music here. Like, if I was on the dance floor and a Weeknd song came on, I could totally imagine turning around to find a phantom behind me. The Phantom of the Dancefloor. There’s the name of the next The Weeknd album. What I’m trying to say is, these aren’t happy dance songs. These songs moonwalk the fine line between sorrowful, sinister and drop dead sexy.
Singlewise take your pick. Apart from the face song you got brooding beaters “The Hills” and “Often.” There’s the song for those with unconventional desires with “Earned it,” and one of my favorites, the Kanye West produced “Tell Your Friends.” Which apparently uses a sample of a 70s song called “Soul Dog” so popular among the hip hop community, it has been prominently sampled in at least eight other recordings. Personally, I like this one best.
I wish the album was a little shorter. Not that 65 minutes feels like an endurance test, but there are some snoozers. Still, I’m intrigued to see where The Weeknd will go from here. More of the same? Maybe something more uptempo next time? I would love to see some more toe tappers, just as long as I’m not driving when I hear them. The world is a safer place when I keep my moves where they belong, at home.
Favorite Tracks: “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills,” “Tell Your Friends”