As The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) has clearly proven his relevance throughout the decade, the stakes are increasingly high when he drops projects. How does he work to release award-winning hits, please fans who each favor certain chapters of his musical career, and most importantly, stay true to himself?
Viewing the promo video for After Hours, it is evident that Tesfaye is struggling with who he is; is he an impulsive thrill-seeker (“Heartless”), or a somber, reflective romantic (“Hardest to Love”)? As most of the world faces self-isolation today, we can easily submerge into The Weeknd’s “brain-melting psychotic chapter” and find out for ourselves.
Each moment is precious on this 14-track record, where it is completely up to Tesfaye to carry listeners through his feelings: not one artist makes a guest appearance. He does this with such power and talent that the average song length on this album is notably longer than most, with the title track and others like “Faith” and “Escape From LA” having durations of five minutes and over. This achievement — paired with the contribution each song makes to his new era — results in a rejuvenating project unlike others on the charts. Most popular artists today seem to opt for shorter songs, yet more of them, which often results in filler tracks. Setting the scene, these mechanics are noteworthy and deserve recognition before interpreting the album’s contents.
Immediately upon listening, the production team’s sonic choices are distinguished and flawlessly polished. Tesfaye has expressed his love for the 80s well before the release of After Hours, and its influence maintains a refreshing balance with those of the electronic, indie and psychedelic genres. As for the beats, each sound serves a key purpose, whether it be adding to the eeriness of his aesthetic or by snapping the listener back to reality after moving with the melody for too long. These hard-hitting, synth-heavy instrumentals, accentuated by top-notch production, create a full, well-mixed sound for Tesfaye to glide over with his higher vocal range: a final product that will leave listeners speechless.
As the listening experience progresses, the album slowly reveals a side of The Weeknd that fans have yet to meet. This new character is established through combining elements from all of his projects — examples include the impulsive bad-guy from “Beauty Behind the Madness,” and his emotional, helpless self illustrated side through “My Dear Melancholy” — then by adding introspection to create a more reflective persona. As he alludes to taking off a disguise in the first track, it is clear that listeners are being introduced to the real Abel. He stays consistent with his past self through tales of sex and drugs while unprecedentedly digging deeper into the behind-the-scenes of his seemingly lavish lifestyle. The Weeknd’s previous LP, Starboy, seems to glorify the moments when he’s high while After Hours burrows into his regrets and sorrow following his come down.
This awakening The Weeknd experiences through his physical and emotional feelings leads him to be more apologetic throughout this album. However, transitioning from “Escape from LA,” where he was longing to take steps towards a better life, to the next track, “Heartless,” Abel shows that he still falls victim and relapses to his old ways. With continuous mentions of his fear of failure, an urge to escape the reality that his past self created and wishes to return to Toronto to be out of the spotlight, The Weeknd communicates his struggles loud and clear through this vulnerable persona.
The first track, “Alone Again,” seems to mirror the anticipation the XO fanbase has endured since 2016, when The Weeknd last dropped an LP. Tuning into this track heightens the excitement as listeners wait for the beat to drop and the album to truly take off. Noting the LP’s abrupt ending of its final track, as well some unfinished endings and interludes sprinkled throughout the tracklist — “Too Late,” “Repeat After Me (Interlude)” — this contrast reaffirms the eerie, uncertain vibes generated consistently by After Hours, leaving everything open to interpretation by the audience.
The Weeknd could not have presented his puzzle of emotions to the world at a better time; not only are we able to take the time necessary to unpack Abel’s disposition, but we also find solace in moving from “daytime music,” drawing relation to his lost, lonely, more mature sentiments. After Hours is a robust, rich, flawless record on its own, but its extra tie to the chaotic current state of world only makes this long-awaited release all the more moving and special.