The build-up to the latest record from Toronto born R&B ‘Starboy’ The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, was distinctly low-key. Tesfaye nonchalantly dropped a screenshot of a text conversation with his friend turned creative-director La Mar Taylor on Instagram last Wednesday enquiring whether “Should we drop it on Friday, I’m indifferent to be honest”. The EP was released two days later.
The understated nature of Tesfaye’s EP rollout suits a release that provides the perfect antidote to the vacuous pop of Starboy. Packed with brooding lyrics and slick production My Dear Melancholy sees Tesfaye return to his introspective roots, ditching the braggadocios king of pop persona that dominated his last album in favour of a more familiar, fragile tone. Where Starboy was a bloated, sprawling 18-track behemoth My Dear Melancholy, is simply a tight twenty-minute break-up record.
Tesfaye firmly returns to the dark, beautifully gloomy sound that saw him redefine the R&B genre at the start of this decade
The record’s tone is established early. Heavily on the solipsism, “Call Out My Name” opens with an ethereal piano riff before morphing into a bass-heavy ballad as in classic ‘The Weekend-style’ Tesfaye laments the decay of a relationship. Production remains all-star throughout the record. EDM giant Skrillex channels UK Garage, lending a pacey beat to “Wasted Times”.
The record reaches its thematic peak around the two Gesaffelstein produced beats. On “I Was Never There” Gesaffelstein, whose notable production credits include Kanye West’s Yeezus lead single “Black Skinhead”, twins a piercing siren with a slow, pulsating bassline. Here Gesaffelstein crafts an instrumental that merges chaos with control, perfectly matching Tesfaye’s ability to flit between deep introspective sadness and insecure anger.
Annoyingly the record is littered with clumsy, overtly sexual lines. Moments like on “Hurt You” when Tesfaye states “Girl, I’ll come to put myself between your lips /Not between your heart” paint the Canadian superstar as less of a bad-boy lothario and more as a distinctly average lyricist. Too often Tesfaye slips into crude hypersexuality, with lines like “I hope you know this dick is still an option” blemishing precise, emotive vocal performances. Tesfaye’s lyrics remain strongest when at their most intimate. Raw vulnerability shines through on “I Was Never There”, as Tesfaye croons “You’d rather something toxic/So I poison myself again, again/Til I feel nothing” reflecting on his own hollowness following the decay of a faltering relationship.
Cohesive in both its sound and theme My Dear Melancholy, is hardly a ground-breaking record. Tesfaye firmly returns to the dark, beautifully gloomy sound that saw him redefine the R&B genre at the start of this decade. Putting away the dance floor scorchers, My Dear Melancholy, falls neatly into The Weeknd’s already impressive catalogue of inward looking and emotionally charged R&B.