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June 3, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: The Weeknd delivers emotional synth-pop album

After Hours

Republic Records

Returning from a four-year album hiatus, R&B icon The Weeknd has released his latest project, “After Hours.” From start to finish, The Weeknd uses an array of synthesizers, auto-tune and echo to complement emotional lyrics about different aspects of his complicated life. 

The themes of the album create a narrative-driven, partially autobiographical record. A common theme in many of The Weeknd’s releases is a cold, unsettling atmosphere, and this holds true for many of the tracks in “After Hours.” The first five songs feature eerie sub-bass and dark tones. “Snowchild” is a standout among these opening songs. The Weeknd laments on growing up in Toronto and how he rose to become a top contender in the music industry. He sings on top of a relaxed and gripping synth beat. 

As the album progresses, the overall tone of the music becomes less gloomy. The dark vibes of the earlier songs are replaced with club-ready dance tracks that are full of rapid-fire verses and catchy hooks. “Blinding Light” and “Heartless,” the lead singles of the album, provide a perfect contrast to the more withdrawn and introspective first half of the album. This foil of two styles allows listeners to truly experience the highs and lows of The Weeknd’s complex life.

While “After Hours” is concise and emotional, The Weeknd still occasionally indulges in some of his worst musical impulses. On songs like “Escape from LA,” he croons about having everything and wanting a true soul mate. “Got the money, got the cars, got the ceiling with the stars,” he sings. “Got everything I wanted/ But I’d be nothing without you.” Listeners may find it hard to empathize with this rich celebrity struggle because not many people have The Weeknd’s level of fame.

“After Hours” flourishes mainly because The Weeknd manages to blend both the beauty and the madness of his psyche. The singer managed to create an album that remained within the boundaries of the R&B-pop genre but failed to truly push the limits of his creativity. This release will leave its impact as a strong pop album, but not as a timeless classic.