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Sex, drugs and R&B: The Weeknd recreates earlier sounds with ’80s-inspired ‘After Hours’

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After Hours album cover.

Image on Wikisource

After Hours album cover.

What begins as a declaration of love that comes too late to save the relationship continues in After Hours, The Weeknd’s fourth studio album, released on the 20th. March was published and soon became a story about drug use and sex to deal with self-hatred and heartache.

The album will accompany the first official My Dear Melancholy EP, which will be released on the 30th. March 2018. Weeknd, also known as Abel Tesfaye, expands the story of dying love in the EP by trying to feel alive while having endless fun with his latest feature film.

After Hours has more success than failure, with something for everyone and every mood, and slips easily between the optimistic and slower emotional paths. The album is aimed at all Weeknd fans, new and old, and makes up for the criticism the artist received for abandoning his original Starboy sound.

After Hours mixes the pop sounds of Starboy (2016) with the sinister R&B sounds of his Studio Mixtape trilogy (2012). Tesfay’s recent performance in a film by his brother Seifdy’s Uncut Gems – he himself plays a promising 2012er in the music of his debut – almost heralds a return to his original sound.

Tesfaye began promoting the album in November 2019 with the release of his first two singles, Heartless and Blinding Lights, two days apart. Blinding Lights, the second single and most popular song on the album, currently ranks fourth in the Billboard Top 100. If the first two sound and theme single’s are similar to the title track of his latest album Starboy, then the third single and title track After Hours are much more similar to his previous discography.

The rapid presence of the heavy bass in Starboy is balanced by slower and dull rhythms that are more typical of R&B music and his early works. The love and arrogance in his 2016 texts are replaced by a nostalgia and self-hatred that are characteristic of his early works.

Tesfaye has not only returned to his roots musically and lyrically, but also in terms of collaboration. Ilangelo, a Canadian sound engineer who actively participated in the trilogy, is credited with writing and/or producing seven songs on the 14-track album. As a fan of The Weeknd’s early works, I was attracted to the tracks Ilangelo was involved with, including Snowchild, Escape to LA, Faith and After Hours.

Heavy synths and rehearsals give the songs on After Hours the feel of the 80’s and help to tune the stage to the big story of the album. The sounds of the 80’s are reflected in the visual images of the music videos that accompany the album. The clip for track 10 of In Your Eyes has had more than 2.2 million hits on YouTube since its release on Monday morning.

Your Eyes – with Heartless and Blinding Lights as the only tracks that currently have accompanying videos – takes over the aesthetics of an 80s horror film, portraying Tesfay as a knife killer chasing a woman who witnessed his latest act of destruction. The images of bloody faces, interrupted by the flashy lights of the party, reinforce the story of the album and draw the viewer to the final scene.

Given the Weeknd’s ability to tell stories and its aesthetic appeal, After Hours would be an ideal candidate for a visual album. Since three videos have already been published, it will be interesting to see if Tesfaye will continue to perform his texts during the year.

For some listeners, Scared to Live may have familiar accents, with passages from Elton John’s Your Song, which is also considered an author of the song. While the two sound like an unlikely couple, the collaboration enhances the aesthetics of 80’s sound and image, which is presented in the album and accompanying music videos. The song adds coherence, but it may seem a bit uncomfortable not being able to combine the sounds of two artists.

With music and aesthetics inspired by the 80’s, After Hours is a fresh look at the original sound of The Weeknd that lovers of new and old will appreciate.

Weeknd plans a tour of North America and Europe on the 11th. The month of June is about to begin. The artist’s performance is scheduled for the 26th. June at PPG Paints Arena.