Words About Music
The Weeknd “Kiss Land”
Three years ago, no one knew the name Abel Tesfaye, apart from a producer who had the idea for a dark R&B project called “The Weekend.” By the time 2011 was rolling around, a few blogs were buzzing over some YouTube videos released under the moniker The Weeknd, which had to lose the “e” due to legal reasons. No name was attached to the project and no one knew who was behind these disturbing, beautiful, brilliant, raw R&B tracks. In February, The Weeknd dropped his debut mixtape “House of Balloons.” He began playing live in July of that year, before dropping his “Thursday” mixtape in August and “Echoes of Silence” mixtape in December. He became pals with Drake and toured worldwide all throughout 2012. He released all three mixtapes physically in the form of a triple-album called “Trilogy.” A year later, The Weeknd has returned with his fourth project in three years, which is also his debut studio album, the highly anticipated and slightly controversial “Kiss Land.” So let’s talk about it.
Part of what made The Weeknd exciting was the unapologetic tales of debauchery described within his tracks. That plus the atmospheric production, elusive frontman, and his ability to be open about his tragic flaws. For a while, The Weeknd was an enigmatic figure the likes of which had not been seen in R&B in a very long time. Drake is a great rapper, Frank Ocean broke ground in the world of LGBT musicians, and Miguel kicked people in the face on accident, but Abel Tesfaye was a pop singer unlike any other. And this is part of what makes “Kiss Land” such a colossal disappointment. His trilogy of mixtapes showed so much promise that I thought it would be nearly impossible for Abel to release something that wasn’t truly brilliant. “House of Balloons” was a very difficult mixtape to follow, and even though he never followed it up with anything quite as incredible, he at least released well constructed mixtapes that showcased his talents. Think of it like this. Imagine Radiohead’s first three albums were “OK Computer,” “Kid A,” and “Amnesiac.” Then, in the midst of all the critical acclaim those albums achieved, they release “Pablo Honey.” That’s sort of what we’re dealing with here.
“Kiss Land” begins with what are some pretty forgettable tracks. While Abel does briefly mention the sex, drugs, and partying he’s known for singing about, he also sings about unrequited love. Quite a bit actually; it seems to be a major theme on “Kiss Land.” And that wouldn’t be a big deal if Abel didn’t go about it in a fairly cheesy way. And by cheesy I mean 80s synth pop/R&B cheesy. Sometimes he goes about it in a really interesting and memorable way, like on “Belong To The World,” but other times, like on “The Town,” he does it in a way that is very uncharacteristic of The Weeknd. And I’m not saying Abel should release the same album over and over again and never evolve, but I am saying it’s strange to go from borderline misogynistic sex addict to “And you deserve your name on a crown, on a throne,” which is directed at a woman who cheated on him with another man.
Now I’m not advocating misogyny, and I don’t think Abel Tesfaye is actually a misogynist. I do think, however, that “Kiss Land” is some sort of step closer to mainstream appeal. It seems like some big-business record company is trying to sell “Kiss Land” as a Drake album with Abel Tesfaye singing all the words, and for a studio debut Abel deserves a lot better. Sure there’s still loads of sex and late-night parties and introspection and sex, but it all seems somewhat fake. Like Abel is doing this album this way to sell records. People like “House of Balloons,” so he figured he’d record a more mainstream friendly version of that to ease him to Drake levels of fame, which I really hope is not the case. I really hope this is a speed bump in what could be a long and beautiful career, as opposed to a short and tragic one. But “Kiss Land” is proof that you can’t rush talent. It’s glossily produced when it should be visceral and pained. It’s like if Trent Reznor all of a sudden recorded an album produced by Daft Punk. The Weeknd aesthetic is still there, especially with the Gaspar Noé inspired video for the eponymous track, but it feels contrived. I guess we’ll see what the future holds for Abel Tesfaye, but I really don’t want to live in a future where we’re all talking about The Weekend more than we’re talking about The Weeknd.
SCORE – 5.3
FAVORITE TRACKS – Love In The Sky, Belong To The World, Live For (featuring Drake), Kiss Land