The Weeknd - My Dear Melancholy
My Dear Melancholy
Is it an EP? Is it an album? Is it a project? Spotify says EP, The Weeknd says album, the record label says “project”. Does that sound a bit awkward and confusing? GOOD! This is the perfect segue into “My Dear Melancholy”. The Weeknd’s new…"EP album project" is here and attempts to strike a balance between the brooding darkness we used to know and the sheer pop aesthetic from recent years. Rumors swirled that The Weeknd would be releasing new music this year, but this came out of nowhere. It was officially announced and released within 2 days, a rare occurrence that most artists would trade for lots of PR and hype, but that is just the word-of-mouth type of move The Weeknd thrived on and built a career with. In the grand scope of things, The Weeknd’s rose to stardom in record time, having only debuted his first official studio album in 2013 with Kiss Land, and previously his three mixtapes were released as the Trilogy compilation. Then, there was the strange, but potent, Beauty Behind the Madness and the mesh of tonal direction of Starboy, which had enough filler for a Thanksgiving dinner.
Stylistically and lyrically, The Weeknd strikes a balance between his older and more somber R&B roots with the pop musicality and personality of his more recent outings. Overall, this is a solid effort, filled with contemporary themes to hold our interest and vocal stylings we’ve come to recognize as unique to The Weeknd, drawing heavily on influences R.Kelly, Prince and Michael Jackson, as stated by the man himself. Even the cover art of his face half covered by darkness is almost a direct image of a somewhat obscure Michael Jackson image. Compared to the bloated 68 minute Starboy, the easily digestible 22 minutes is perfect, the album feels cohesive and focused.
“My Dear Melancholy,” at its heart, is a breakup album. In every song, it’s clear he is processing the throes of a break up in his signature way (something, something Selena Gomez and Bella Hadid). Where Starboy felt like there were too many cooks with a who’s who of producers such as Doc McKinney, Daft Punk, Diplo and Cashmere Cat, there are far less name’s attached to this project. Returning as a producer from Starboy is Frank Dukes (noted producer on 5 of 6 tracks), Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Cristo (Hurt You) and the most notable new-comer, Skrillex, on the track "Wasted Times." This seems like an intentional move, and what we have as a result is not a subdued effort, but a more organic one that allows each track to stand out and shine on its own.
This album shines darkly, that is, the production and singing harken back to the earlier material that helped propel the singer into the limelight. But, it also represents a bit of a confusing turn to nostalgia so soon into his career. It feels like with each outing The Weeknd is trying to find exactly where he fits in the mainstream and it’s refreshing to know he’s not afraid to pay homage to his roots and core fanbase. Having said that, this new album may be received more coldly by the casual listener or those who grew accustomed to the shimmer of his last two albums.
Opening the album with "Call Out My Name" sets the tone wonderfully and became the first single off the album with a low budget video, which was oddly released a day after the album’s initial release. The song itself is about wishing the object of his affection shared the same affection in return sung almost as a lament over an oozing synth and heavy effects. Following that is “Try Me”, which is wonderfully simplistic musically, with a basic trap beat and pulsing synth that deals with trying to convince someone to leave their current lover and “try me”. Flowing into this we have “Wasted Times”, produced and co-written by Skrillex, who writes a wonderful garage style tune and the strange vocal effects on the chorus created a haunting, but catchy track. Lyrically, it’s about missing good times with an old lover and the prospects of handling fame while in a relationship.
Next, is probably my favorite track on the album. “I Was Never There" feat. Gesaffelstien, which is The Weeknd in his true form, haunting with soaring melodic lines, both vocally and musically, the latter half of the track takes a slower feel and puts his heart on display in a brutally honest and vulnerable way. He opens with the words “What makes a grown man wanna cry? What makes him wanna take his life"? “Hurt You" feat. Gesaffelstien", which seems a tad juvenile compared to the rest of the album, is somewhat basic and states he’s still down for a booty call...because why not? Closing out the EP is “Privilege”, a very somber goodbye to both his lovers and to the album. The dreamy track with heavy layered synth serves as a backdrop to him saying he’s going to get over it with fucking and drugs, the only way he really knows how to cope. His vocals are very clean compared to the rest of the album and the abrupt ending is a fitting note to end on.
Overall, if you were a fan of The Weeknd’s last two albums then "My Dear Melancholy" might be a bit of an uncomfortable (re)adjustment. With far fewer pop frills and pomp, it is a bit of a confusing direction for The Weeknd, but it’s not unfamiliar territory, and getting back to his roots is really a commendable and bold move at this stage of his career. The brevity and spontaneous release of the album is a bit awkward, it certainly doesn’t feel like a complete album (lets be honest, it’s an EP). It does, however, feel like a complete idea, that is to say, it seems he put all his focus on describing his breakups and the effects it had on him, which shows its intent. This leaves you wanting more, and tonally the tracks share a similar vibe due in large part to the lyrical content which I can see being a bit mundane for some listeners.
The production is top notch and although the somber tone or downer lyrical content of the album might not be for everyone, there is plenty here to be appreciated and praised due to its range and variety. It's never easy to put your heart and soul into a project, but by allowing himself to remain vulnerable and honest with his own flaws is a commendable move as well. I do, however, need to address the elephant in the room. It's certainly more than a bit creepy to write six songs about your very famous exes to be consumed by the masses, whether it's just a part of his personality as an artist or a clever marketing ploy, or both, it does seem a bit off-putting if you think about it for too long. Having said that, I for one am looking forward to seeing how The Weeknd continues to develop as an artist and how he copes with his fame as time moves on.