Album Review: DAWN FM – The Weeknd
When Abel Tesfaye emerged from Toronto in 2011 with a trio of free mixtapes, he appeared to be an odd bet to become one of the world’s biggest pop sensations. Despite the evident resemblance of his clean voice to Michael Jackson’s, his nihilistic form of R&B, laden with blank-eyed tales of graphic sex and insatiable drug intake, was high on atmosphere but a long cry from daytime pop.
He now sits atop the mainstream a decade later, with a Super Bowl halftime show under his belt and one major song in particular. Blinding Lights’ magnificent Eighties synthpop spent eight weeks at number one in the UK, breaking the record for the longest period spent on the Billboard chart in the United States.
The 31-year-old has two options: return to the strangeness (a decision hinted by the inclusion of edgy electronica producer Daniel Lopatin, alias Oneohtrix Point Never, on practically every track on Dawn FM) or do the pop thing better than ever. Tesfaye has done a fantastic job with the latter. While his previous albums had plenty of memorable moments, he was never far from a slew of boring ballads. This one glides and spins with tremendous assurance, even incorporating a spoken word contribution from producer Quincy Jones to underline the Jacko link.
The album also evokes the shift made by Daft Punk for their painstakingly prepared last album, Random Access Memories. Tesfaye collaborated with the robotic dance duo on his Starboy album in 2016, and while they aren’t featured here, the synthesizers on tracks like Sacrifice and the beautiful slowie Out of Time have a similar analogue funkiness.
On the racing disco of How Do I Make You Love Me?, he makes do with asking lesser dance act Swedish House Mafia to evoke the spirit of Giorgio Moroder, while Swedish hit machine Max Martin ensures that every tune is paradise brilliant.
The Weeknd may be singing about the end of life and appearing on the cover as a tired old man, but his career is far from gone. He’s at the peak of his pop career on Dawn FM.