There has always been a blurry line between numbness and escapist pleasure in the Weeknd’s music. His misanthropic R&B is fixated on the drug-fuelled, endless after-party lifestyle and his (unfortunately titled) third album continues the indulgence while tapping a new musical vein.
Just as his sex-addicted songs were starting to feel aimless on 2013’s disappointing Kiss Land, the Toronto singer/songwriter star has done two things: added more pop structure on insanely catchy 80s-pop-cribbing tunes (Can’t Feel My Face, In The Night, As You Are) and added more first-person and seemingly autobiographical detail into the mix (Real Life, Losers, Tell Your Friends).
His lifestyle addictions reach their nadir on the Lana Del Rey duet Prisoner. “I’m a prisoner to my addiction,” he sings, blandly. The album is plagued by similarly banal lyrics about sex and drugs that make his playboy image feel all the more superficial. (It doesn’t help that he told Rolling Stone he was so distraught over Kiss Land flopping, he pondered moving to Seattle to indulge in a “super-drugged-out Nirvana vibe.”)
More positively, the poppier musical strategy perfectly suits his boyish vocals, and he sounds more open and less pretentious than ever before.
Top track: As You Are
The Weeknd plays the Air Canada Centre on November 3.