The Weeknd released Starboy this morning (25 November), technically his third album but essentially his sixth given how well-produced the mixtapes were.
It sees him go in new directions he started to peak at on Beauty Behind the Madness, features Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey and Future and is streaming now on Apple Music and Spotify.
Listen along with us on the latter below, as we go track-by-track on our first spin:
A statement of intent and the record-breaking first single off the LP. There are no hi-hats to be found but instead an undulating, 80s-inspired pattern of popping drums over the smash-clap of a snare. It's pop-y but with an edge to it. Driving music, a car stalking through LA, the tyres slurring over the asphalt.
2. Party Monster
The title alone is campy and so is the arpeggio slasher-horror synth. There's autotune here and you could argue it’s a shame The Weeknd’s capitulated to the trend given his vocal is so strong, but when it’s so heavily distorted and stylised it works. It’s a pretty damn catchy song, and songs are generally quite slow to get jammed in my brain. Head nodding pretty furiously and trying to catch my colleague’s attention.
3. False Alarm
Was already dreading this one coming on, which doesn’t work for me and sounds like what would happen if you put Don Henley and One Direction in a room and asked them to write a relevant R&B banger. The chorus has a kind of pseudo-punk feel to it that makes my skin crawl and I will never be on board with crowd participation-orientated “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” chants.
As if to comfort you, or serve as, well, a reminder, 'Reminder' feels much more like The Weeknd that first grabbed us and is prologued by an eerie, disembodied synth line. It gives way to a moreish little beat and simple but effective vocal. The lyrics reference his surge into the mainstream and ironic Kids Choice Awards nominations for ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, a song about doing a ton of coke:
Culture news in pictures
Culture news in pictures
1/30 30 September 2016
An employee hangs works of art with "Grand Teatro" by Marino Marini (R) and bronze sculpture "Sfera N.3" by Arnaldo Pomodoro seen ahead of a Contemporary Art auction on 7 October, at Sotheby's in London
2/30 29 September 2016
Street art by Portuguese artist Odeith is seen in Dresden, during an exhibition "Magic City - art of the streets"
3/30 28 September 2016
Dancers attend a photocall for the new "THE ONE Grand Show" at Friedrichstadt-Palast in Berlin, Germany
4/30 28 September 2016
With an array of thrift store china, humorous souvenirs and handmade tile adorning its walls and floors, the Mosaic Tile House in Venice stands as a monument to two decades of artistic collaboration between Cheri Pann and husband Gonzalo Duran
5/30 27 September 2016
A gallery assistant poses amongst work by Anthea Hamilton from her nominated show "Lichen! Libido!(London!) Chastity!" at a preview of the Turner Prize in London
6/30 27 September 2016
A technician wearing virtual reality glasses checks his installation in three British public telephone booths, set up outside the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, Netherlands. The installation allows visitors a 3-D look into the museum which has twenty-two paintings belonging to the British Royal Collection, on loan for an exhibit from 29 September 2016 till 8 January 2017
7/30 26 September 2016
An Indian artist dressed as Hindu god Shiva performs on a chariot as he participates in a religious procession 'Ravan ki Barat' held to mark the forthcoming Dussehra festival in Allahabad
8/30 26 September 2016
Jean-Michel Basquiat's 'Air Power', 1984, is displayed at the Bowie/Collector media preview at Sotheby's in New York
9/30 25 September 2016
A woman looks at an untitled painting by Albert Oehlen during the opening of an exhibition of works by German artists Georg Baselitz and Albert Oehlen in Reutlingen, Germany. The exhibition runs at the Kunstverein (art society) Reutlingen until 15 January 2017
10/30 24 September 2016
Fan BingBing (C) attends the closing ceremony of the 64th San Sebastian Film Festival at Kursaal in San Sebastian, Spain
11/30 23 September 2016
A view of the artwork 'You Are Metamorphosing' (1964) as part of the exhibition 'Retrospektive' of Japanese artist Tetsumi Kudo at Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany. The exhibition runs from 25 September 2016 to 1 January 2017
12/30 22 September 2016
Jo Applin from the Courtauld Institute of Art looks at Green Tilework in Live Flesh by Adriana Vareja, which features in a new exhibition, Flesh, at York Art Gallery. The new exhibition features works by Degas, Chardin, Francis Bacon and Sarah Lucas, showing how flesh has been portrayed by artists over the last 600 years
13/30 21 September 2016
Performers Sean Atkins and Sally Miller standing in for the characters played by Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell during a photocall for Tim Burton's "Miss Peregrines Home For Peculiar Children" at Potters Field Park in London
14/30 20 September 2016
A detail from the blanket 'Alpine Cattle Drive' from 1926 by artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is displayed at the 'Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum for Contemporary Arts' in Berlin. The exhibition named 'Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Hieroglyphen' showing the complete collection of Berlin's Nationalgallerie works of the German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and will run from 23 September 2016 until 26 February 2017
15/30 20 September 2016
A man looks at portrait photos by US photographer Bruce Gilden in the exhibition 'Masters of Photography' at the photokina in Cologne, Germany. The trade fair on photography, photokina, schowcases some 1,000 exhibitors from 40 countries and runs from 20 to 25 September. The event also features various photo exhibitions
16/30 20 September 2016
A woman looks at 'Blue Poles', 1952 by Jackson Pollock during a photocall at the Royal Academy of Arts, London
17/30 19 September 2016
Art installation The Refusal of Time, a collaboration with Philip Miller, Catherine Meyburgh and Peter Galison, which features as part of the William Kentridge exhibition Thick Time, showing from 21 September to 15 January at the Whitechapel Gallery in London
18/30 18 September 2016
Artists creating one off designs at the Mm6 Maison Margiela presentation during London Fashion Week Spring/Summer collections 2017 in London
19/30 18 September 2016
Bethenny Frankel attends the special screening of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" to celebrate the 25th Anniversary Edition release on Blu-Ray and DVD in New York City
Getty Images for Walt Disney Stu
20/30 17 September 2016
Visitors attend the 2016 Oktoberfest beer festival at Theresienwiese in Munich, Germany
21/30 16 September 2016
Visitors looks at British artist Damien Hirst work of art 'The Incomplete Truth', during the 13th Yalta Annual Meeting entitled 'The World, Europe and Ukraine: storms of changes', organised by the Yalta European Strategy (YES) in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation at the Mystetsky Arsenal Art Center in Kiev
22/30 16 September 2016
Tracey Emin's "My Bed" is exhibited at the Tate Liverpool as part of the exhibition Tracey Emin And William Blake In Focus, which highlights surprising links between the two artists
23/30 15 September 2016
Musician Dave Grohl (L) joins musician Tom Morello of Prophets of Rage onstage at the Forum in Inglewood, California
24/30 14 September 2016
Model feebee poses as part of art installation "Narcissism : Dazzle room" made by artist Shigeki Matsuyama at rooms33 fashion and design exhibition in Tokyo. Matsuyama's installation features a strong contrast of black and white, which he learned from dazzle camouflage used mainly in World War I
25/30 13 September 2016
Visitors look at artworks by Chinese painter Cui Ruzhuo during the exhibition 'Glossiness of Uncarved Jade' held at the exhibition hall 'Manezh' in St. Petersburg, Russia. More than 200 paintings by the Chinese artist are presented until 25 September
26/30 12 September 2016
A visitor looks at Raphael's painting 'Extase de Sainte Cecile', 1515, from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence during the opening of a Raphael exhibition at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Russia. The first Russian exhibition of the works of the Italian Renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino includes eight paintings and three drawings which come from Italy. Th exhibit opens to the public from 13 September to 11 December
27/30 11 September 2016
Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd perform during Otis Redding 75th Birthday Celebration - Rehearsals at the Macon City Auditorium in Macon, Georgia
Getty Images for Otis Redding 75
28/30 10 September 2016
Sakari Oramo conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Chorus and the BBC Singers at the Last Night of the Proms 2016 at the Royal Albert Hall in London
29/30 9 September 2016
A visitor walks past a piece entitled "Fruitcake" by Joana Vasconcelo, during the Beyond Limits selling exhibition at Chatsworth House near Bakewell
30/30 8 September 2016
A sculpture of a crescent standing on the 2,140 meters high mountain 'Freiheit' (German for 'freedom'), in the Alpstein region of the Appenzell alps, eastern Switzerland. The sculpture is lighted during the nights by means of solar panels. The 38-year-old Swiss artist and atheist Christian Meier set the crescent on the peak to start a debate on the meaning of religious symbols - as summit crosses - on mountains. 'Because so many peaks have crosses on them, it struck me as a great idea to put up an equally absurd contrast'. 'Naturally I wanted to provoke in a fun way. But it goes beyond that. The actions of an artist should be food for thought, both visually and in content'
'I just won a new award for a kids show / Talking 'bout a face coming off a bag a blow'
He also says: ‘Got that Hannibal, Silence of the Lambo’ but let’s try and pretend he doesn't.
A workout jam. The bass synth line in the verse is so bouncy my ears are struggling to adjust to the tempo switch. Such a classic house cymbal too - take the vocals out and this could be on a Hed Kandi mix being played at a hotel pool party. This departure is brave in how regressive it is, I don’t know yet if it’s the sound people will want.
Though I’m fond of The Weeknd's slow jams, I don’t hate the upbeat ones, and this one is way more alluring, the bass chugging away under infectious vocals and slow-stroked guitar chords. That chord progression sounds familiar actually….
Yep, it’s Tears For Fears’ ‘Pale Shelter’.
The breakdown here has a nice climb in it, almost feels out of a musical but not in a bad way.
7. True Colours
The genre references are so varied on this album ready. We were in John Carpenter territory for a while, dipped into new wave and now we’re getting something more akin to Boyz II Men. A hi-hat along reliably ticks under a syrupy chorus.
8. Stargirl Interlude
The titular Stargirl is Lana Del Rey, whom The Weeknd collaborated with on his last album, Beauty Behind the Madness. She’s a good fit as they both have an obscured but self-aware melodrama to their music.
Damn she is hitting some high notes in this, piercing through the song like Kate Bush before Abel comes in with a lower hook. Really nice little interlude and definitely could have been longer.
*Lunch interlude (not a song title, I’m just hungry)*
Yesssss, the Kendrick track. A Madlib-esque beat involving a screeching but laid-back guitar riff over simple drums that evokes rolling through the hood trying to keep a low profile.
Not the strongest hook and I don’t think the subtle autotune adds anything, but here comes K-Dot… Incredible - he never phones in his verses, also playing around with his cadence, refusing to settle into a flow and ceaselessly switching it up. By the time he’s in machine gun mode you’ll be slapping nearby furniture.
10. Six Feet Under
A suitably menacing little track given the title. Lyrically pretty trite and Future is used sparingly given he was chosen as one of the few guests on the album, but the kind of song you’re not gonna skip if it comes on shuffle while you’re walking late at night.
11. Love To Lay
A sombre verse belies another sugary chorus that should be used for a montage of people using those water-based jetpacks. This is the sort of song that would kill on a boozy summer’s day but jars a little in December.
12. A Lonely Night
An intro of bass jabs evoking Candi Staton’s ‘You Got the Love’ or possibly scene transition music in The Fresh Prince.
We’re apparently in funk territory now. I can’t keep up.
Really eerie opening, a recording of a young voice distorting as if played too many times on antique equipment in a Paranormal Activity movie.
This is one of the first songs I’ll be revisiting, it has a velveteen quality and immediately fingers your spine. More understated than some of the other tracks and all the better for it.
14. Ordinary Life
David Carradine gets a name check, if the 80s cinematic touchstones weren’t clear enough, in another track with a pretty traditional verse-bridge-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus structure and catchy, easy to compute chorus. This record is definitely going to shift a ton of copies/clock a ton of streams.
Sounds a bit like a radio-friendly offcut from Echoes of Silence.
15. Nothing Without You
Fatigue starting to set in now (this is why I tend to listen to albums in chunks) but this is another assured bit of songwriting, the chorus getting a Diplo-esque pitch-shifted echo. The title of the song aims low lyrically, and nothing really stands out in a simple lamentation on loss of love.
16. All I Know
This is sounding more ambitious, a bit like the openers on Kiss Land - lots of bombastic bass hits and ominous synths and requiem vocals.
A meditative interlude is the calm before a hype storm from Future, who presides over the beat like it’s his kingdom.
17. Die For You
This has groove to it and I’m feeling more rapt by the album now Abel’s breaking it down…but just as it’s ending.
It has a tragic ecstasy to it befitting an end of the world party that happens to fall on New Years’ Eve.
18. I Feel It Coming
Remember the first time you heard ‘King Kunta’ and it was all happy funk, only for the guitar line to wound it and add a darkness? There’s similar stuff at play here, the Daft Punk-featuring track initially falling in with Michael Jackson and Toto on a Venn diagram but, crucially, being thrown off kilter by a melancholy keyboard line low in the mix in the chorus. Could definitely become an iconic track.
That was a lot to take on board in one hit. I know there’s a couple of tracks I already want to wheel back after a breather, but I also know that I never want to hear ‘False Alarm’ ever again and that it should probably be jettisoned into space for the public’s safety.
I’ve accepted the fact that The Weeknd won’t be making more music like House of Balloons, and I really don’t blame him given he served up three mixtape’s worth, but this vulture-like clawing at different genres sometimes feels haphazard and like pastiche rather than trendsetting. Abel Tesfaye is undoubtedly a gifted vocalist and songwriter, but his thirst for MJ, sound-of-a-generation mainstream status is, I fear, leading him down the wrong paths.
Update: Fifth impressions - I'm warming to it now. Had 'Secrets' on repeat and the bridge in 'Rockin' is too perfect.
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