The old and new collide on The Weeknd’s latest full-length album, which finally sees Abel Tesfaye find his footing between the sounds of commercialised pop, and dark undertones he originally became known for.
The Weeknd initially took the internet by storm with Trilogy, a collection of mix tapes which confronted listeners with lavish tales of narcotic indulgence and hedonism. While his last album Starboy’was a commercial hit, some fans were left disappointed by its emphasis on glossy pop, over the dark and grittier tone that made him so captivating in the first place (Everyone go listen to "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" please). After Hours marks his first full-length album in four years since then, with fans hoping he’d return to his original nocturnal roots. However, with his newfound fame, Abel faces a new challenge of maintaining mainstream accessibility his newer demographic has come to expect.
After Hours opens on a strong note with the dreamy ‘Alone Again’. Setting the album’s melancholic tone as Abel hauntingly chants “I don’t know if I can be alone again” to a backdrop of glittery synths, perfect for an 80’s movie opening. This loneliness turns out to be a meditation on his past relationship with model, Bella Hadid, in ‘Hardest to Love’. It’s simple drum and bass pattern give room for Abel’s heartfelt vocals to shine as he cries “You're tryna let me go / yeah / And I can see it, I can see it.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear to ‘Scared to Live’, a beautiful ballad where Abel flexes his ability to sustain high notes with ease as he pleads for Bella to move past their problematic relationship.
Abel then moves to a mood of deep introspection as the gentle instrumentals of ‘Snowchild’ invite a re-evaluation of his career. Evident in my favourite line “Cali was the mission but now a n*** leaving” , contrasting a line in one of his older songs “Order plane tickets/ Cali is the mission” (The Morning – Trilogy). The juxtaposition of his early views continues in ‘Escape from LA’. Where this track falters though is its more lacklustre trap-styled production, coupled with a runtime that doesn’t feel earnt, leaving it to remain one of the weaker songs on the tracklist.
The second half goes full 80s synth pop galore as the Weeknd embraces his anti-hero persona and revels in displays of over-indulgence. This tonal shift begins with “Heartless”, as Abel hedonistically flexes bars in “I've been runnin' through the p***sy, need a dog pound”, its braggadocious tone matched with renowned producer Metro Boomin enthusiastic delivery of hard hitting 808s and kickdrums.
Following ‘Heartless’ is my favourite track ‘Faith’ which evokes imagery of a drunk night in Las Vegas. Complete with an otherworldly voice enticing you to partake in revelry: “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me”, yet the inevitable comedown depicted with the outro’s drone of ambient synths and sirens signifying an incoming ambulance or police car.
‘In your Eyes”’ is sure to be a chart topper as you can’t help but pull off cheesy 80s prom dance moves to the hook: “I see there's something burning inside you”. The sax solo at the end adds the icing to the cake.
The title track ‘After Hours’ is sure to be a favourite. It’s slow ominous build up to a rapturous climax and 6-minute runtime hearkening back to Trilogy’s ‘Twenty eight’. Finally, we reach ‘Until I Bleed Out’, suitably downbeat as Abel cries out “I’m bleeding outttt”, marking a cinematic conclusion to Abel’s lavish yet lonesome journey as drugged-up Las Vegas indulgent.
No, After Hours does not reach the raw heights of his original mixtape Trilogy, nor would I expect him to do so given his newfound mainstream popularity. Rather, what The Weeknd accomplishes on After Hours is meet the expectations of both his fanbases. It finally delivers to original fans a nocturnal narrative of breakup and indulgence, yet with more maturity than Trilogy demonstrating growth past his drug addiction. Yet at the same time Abel doesn’t sacrifice the danceability his newer fans have come to expect through its consistent nostalgic tone of 80s synthwave.
Though COVID-19 may have forced us to halt our lives temporarily, After Hours’ dive into the human experience is a much-needed respite from isolation that will make you feel alive once again.
Listen to The Weeknd’s Song ‘Faith’ below: