MY DEAR MELANCHOLY, by The Weeknd
Genre: Alternative R&B
Favorite Tracks: “Try Me,” “Wasted Times,” “Hurt You”
Initially breaking into the hip hop/R&B scene with an unsettling persona that melded Ginuwine-caliber seduction with Future levels of drug addled edginess, The Weeknd’s transition from Toronto homelessness to Starboy status has seen varying degrees of musical quality, at times flaunting a gritty and authentic persona and at other times adopting a character that embraced the more cosmetic ideals synonymous with modern pop stardom.
His first three mixtapes, now referred to by most as TRILOGY, are heralded by fans and critics alike as some of the best R&B releases of the decade, second only to CHANNEL ORANGE in the hearts of many. Skyrocketing into the scene with lyricism covering raw sexuality and candid depictions of addiction, The Weeknd’s original persona was frightening but gripping. His major label debut, KISS LAND, was a departure from the captivating sound listeners expected and eschewed the blunt fortitude that fans had come to expect. Meanwhile, BEAUTY BEHIND THE MADNESS contained some of the best R&B smash hits in recent memory, touting “The Hills,” “Often,” and the notoriously catchy cocaine love song “Can’t Feel My Face.” Though MADNESS didn’t quite see The Weeknd embrace his unrestrained tendencies, ripping instrumentals, and a sex, drugs, and R&B mentality, it helped him come back from the brink of Drake-level sellout status. Coming off of his 2016 letdown STARBOY, Abel Tesfaye is back with six surprise tracks that blur the lines between EP and full-length. With a release shrouded in indifference, MY DEAR MELANCHOLY’s release offered little room for fans to predict which side of The Weeknd would be on display in the new material.
MY DEAR MELANCHOLY sounds like a cathartic culmination of The Weeknd’s wide range of artistic credo. It opens with “Call Out My Name,” a 6/8 ballad that sounds like a well-rendered knock off of his FIFTY SHADES smash hit “Earned It.” The introduction to the record is admittedly a bit lackluster and left the sour inkling that MELANCHOLY was going to be a hodgepodge of would-be hits, released more for the accompanying paycheck than to regain the swathe of merit that surrounded Tesfaye’s earlier material.
MELANCHOLY’s second track, “Try Me,” shakes the dissatisfaction of the release’s opener, fully showcasing Tesfaye’s gorgeous falsetto and talent as a songwriter for the first time in three years. Though it continues to lack the unabashed lyrical confessionalism that marks The Weeknd as one of the decade’s most frightening personas, the Belly-produced, Caribbean-esque drums and midnight strip club synths mark the resurrection of Tesfaye’s creativity as a producer, a trait fans haven’t witnessed since BEAUTY BEHIND THE MADNESS. If anything, “Try Me” sounds like a revamped lost track from one of The Weeknd’s earlier incarnations. With the suave dirtbag sensibilities of a track like “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” “Try Me” might not have the potential to be a radio hit, but it is heartening to hear a Weeknd song that sounds like it may have been written more for the creative release than for the accompanying cash flow.
Although MELANCHOLY gets off to a slow start, it bookends its flops with three top-notch tracks. “I Was Never There” shows Tesfaye bearing unstable and oversexed fangs that disappeared with KISS LAND. The opening lines, “What makes a grown man wanna cry? What makes him wanna take his life? His happiness is never real / And mindless sex is how he feels,” are a somewhat comedic reminder that, even as an aging star, The Weeknd still possesses the insatiable urge to expose what lies behind the closed doors of Hollywood’s dimly lit mansions. “I Was Never There” plays like a post-success adaptation of “The Morning,” pouring listeners a tall glass of Tesfaye’s scarce but notorious sex/sadness cocktail.
“Wasted Times” is a similarly honest booty call anthem, set over a Gesaffelstein-produced, Burial-reminiscent dance beat. The track is oddly satisfying in its unabashed sexuality, with one verse containing both the lines, “And I know right now that we’re not talkin’ / I hope you know this dick is still an option” and “You were equestrian so ride it like a champion.” Though it’s definitely not going to be endorsed by too many mothers reading this, OG Weeknd fans will surely be satisfied to see that Tesfaye still hasn’t gone completely soft, even at 28 with platinum records hanging on his wall.
The album closes with “Hurt You” and “Privilege,” two satisfactory tracks that play like cuts from MADNESS that weren’t polished enough to land a place on the LP. “Privilege” brings to mind Kanye’s “Wolves,” if Kanye had lent Cashmere Cat more autonomy in the studio. Although its prosaic lyrics trap the album’s gems between undeniable filler, it’s still a great departure from the poorly articulated grandiosity of STARBOY. Though the ending is slightly underwhelming, it is an appropriately ordinary ending to a release that perfectly weds the best and worst attributes of The Weeknd’s musical ability.
One of MELANCHOLY’s coolest attributes is that The Weeknd really doesn’t care about it. An Instagrammed screenshot between Tesfaye and his manager showed Tesfaye exhibiting a lackadaisical and nonchalant attitude toward putting out the six tracks. There is something sophisticated about the popstar’s lethargy and his awareness that MELANCHOLY doesn’t have the hit potential of his past releases redeems its negative qualities.
Though it’s overall not The Weeknd’s finest work, MY DEAR MELANCHOLY is still an important milestone in Tesfaye’s career and allows me to once again appreciate and respect The Weeknd’s niche in the hip hop community. It harkens a resurgence to the impressive pop showcased on MADNESS and TRILOGY and, thank god, it’s starting to seem like Tesfaye is preventing himself from jumping off the edge of the sellout realm that he so precariously teeters on.