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Review: The Weeknd – Kiss Land

I could start off this review like everyone else by telling you how The Weeknd single-handedly changed the whole R&B genre, how he’s been able to keep the best personal branding of any artist in the game right now, or how he’s managed to generate the biggest hype in the music industry before even selling one single album. But if you don’t already know these things, you need to stop reading this, and start from the beginning, which happened in a very near past.

Kiss Land is Abel Tesfaye’s, aka The Weeknd, debut album following up the 2011 Trilogy mixtapes, three critically-acclaimed 9-track masterpieces, with which Tesfaye shook the world, thanks to their unprecedented musicality and style. This new LP comes after The Weeknd crawled out of his under-the-radar era, and started featuring on many big-name tracks, from Juicy J, French Montana and Ricky Hil, showing an aberrant inconsistency throughout these songs. This process blurred the predictions about what Kiss Land was going to sound like, especially with Doc McKinney and Illangelo, the masterminds behind the Trilogy sound, being absent from the production credits.

Fortunately, Kiss Land has a familiar overall sound, though it is a lot more accessible and a lot less eerie than Tesfaye’s previous work. This is arguably a good thing. The production has a lot more depth, which succeeds in making the album something you will want to listen to more than once without wanting to put a bullet in your head. But it comes at the cost of intimacy and rawness, both which were brought by the simplicity of the musicality of House of Balloons and company.

Many songs from this album follow the FutureSex/LoveSounds pattern, where the music shifts abruptly in the middle of the track in a complete other direction, something that worked spectacularly well on House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls. While it is introduced with the same mastery on the title track Kiss Land, some transitions, on The Town for example, feel shy and unconvincing. It’s as if the production team doesn’t want to get people out of their comfort zone, knowing that this album will be commercially wide-spread, something that the previous mixtapes were not.

The Weeknd doesn’t falter from his usual lyrical course, re-exploring the themes of drug use and strip club “love” stories. Having experienced a massive transformation in his lifestyle, going from absolute unknown to worldwide star, Tesfaye also shares his insights about the touring life and his growing absenteeism from his hometown, and the problems they initiate. “Expectations can kill a simple man, I try to master the art of that far away love” he mourns on Pretty. While Tesfaye portrayed himself as a cold-hearted womanizer in 95% of his previous songs, he opens up for a brief moment on one of the highlight tracks of the album, Belong To The World. He describes with never-seen-before honesty his torturous, unattainable love for this stripper girl. “You belong to the temporary moments of a dream” are the closing lyrics of this dazzling lead single. The ender, Tears In The Rain, also brings an interesting perspective to Tesfaye’s writing, where, for probably the first time, he’s talking to himself, instead of another woman. “Don’t show the world how alone you’ve become”.

It’s no secret to any fan of the Toronto singer that his biggest inspiration is Michael Jackson, and this is over-confirmed with Wanderlust, a song that could easily have featured on one of the King of Pop’s modern albums, were he still around. It’s his best of two attempts at making a commercial record, the other one being the less than satisfying Live For, a clear shot at radio airplay, featuring Drake.

“This ain’t nothing to relate to” is repeated over and over again on the title-track Kiss Land. Ironically, it’s a lot easier to relate to this album than to the previously dark and scary mixtapes, mostly because of its accessibility. It’s less shocking, but feels more mature. These pros and cons make it hard to clearly decide if we like the direction that The Weeknd is taking. But for an artist as young as he is, it was an important album to make in order to find his way into this maze of possibilities in the music industry. Kiss Land is a great album, but will only be memorable if it becomes a part of an increasingly good discography.

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