After Hours still revels in The Weeknd’s familiar hedonistic lyrical content, but also evinces an unexpected artistic progression.
2020For the better part of the last decade, Abel Tesfaye has been finding new ways to articulate his carnal desire for drugs, sex, and libertine satisfaction; on After Hours, Tesfaye makes the bold artistic choice to continue expressing his inclinations for these same vices in exactly the same manner — except this time around, he gets Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never fame to produce. That last run-on is a bit of a jape: while it may seem like The Weeknd is up to his usual antics, he’s filtered his intemperance through a faux-framing device of being a narcotized Las Vegas-bound playboy (huge stretch there) who’s on a never-ending, Sisyphean struggle to stay clean and not fuck everything and anything in his path. It’s through this loose concept that he’s able to get away with some of his most apathetically debaucherous writing yet (“She like my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship / Futuristic sex, give her Philip K Dick”) and also feature tracks with incel-friendly titles such as “Save Your Tears.” It would seem, at last, he’s now in on how ridiculous the joke is getting. That, and the added bonus of accounting for the natural conclusions of such affairs (i.e. being left penniless and deserted), gives the music something of an arc; while he’s still not willing to completely play it nice, Tesfaye seems to be maturing modestly enough that it feels reasonable to call this a progressive move for the artist.
What is innovative this time around comes in an adherence to a specific neo-psychedelic audio/visual aesthetic — one that doesn’t allow the album to become the centerless clutter that was Starboy — that often elevates our anti-hero’s haunting falsetto and bad boy antics into the realm of art-pop. “Hardest to Love,” written by the Swedish Billboard-charting God/long-time collaborator Max Martin, flutters through with dynamic drum and bass-heavy production, right before Abel gives what might be his most tender, and yet somehow most Weeknd-y witticism yet: “Together we are so alone.” And when he’s playing to his usual strengths, the astringent bite of the album’s bombastic mid-section (“Heartless,” “Faith,” and “Blinding Lights”) is as equally repellent as it is intoxicating — an indication that while he may have altered his mode of articulation, at heart Abel still is (and probably always will be) the same hedonist.
Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.