R&B/Pop singer The Weeknd’s new album, “After Hours” was a triumph of 2020 that extended into the new year, when he performed some of the songs live at Super Bowl LV’s halftime show, Feb. 7, as the main performer.
Released on March 20 of last year, as the Coronavirus pandemic witnessed its first wave of escalation, this 14-track collection sounds like the dance floor personified — crying out from government-mandated isolation, yearning for the social interaction that comes with a crowd of strangers digging the same beat.
“Alone again” opens the album with a recollection of the Grammy Award winner’s earlier era: A fragile falsetto over a hazy, dark R&B setting.
Here he portrays the role of someone similar to an addict. Fed up with his life thus far not being in harmony with his true self, he feels as if he always needs ample, positive support. This realization comes just as the song shifts from a haunting, slow groove to fast, speaker-shaking trap beats and heavy synths — a mix of styles that ebbs and flows throughout this record.
Produced primarily by The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye, along with a cast of producers such as DaHeala, Illangelo and Max Martin, with whom he worked on earlier projects), The Weeknd’s fourth and latest album takes the listener on an emotional ride.
Behind lyrics like, “Don’t let me drown inside your arms. Bad thoughts inside my mind. When the darkness comes,you’re my light, baby,” on “Too Late,” more trap and carefully curated Electronica flourish, resulting in foreboding Soul.
Expressing more artistic shades, “Hardest to Love” and “Scared to Live” are sentimental and swaggering. “HTL” is a candy-dipped, self-aware song that plays with the loose idea of the character that the Toronto-native references throughout the album and on the cover.
“Scared to Live,” meanwhile, channels deceased pop star Prince’s purple aura with an opening organ on a song that vaguely touches on reincarnation, love and relationship difficulty.
The second half of “After Hours” embraces the slow evolution of his work that has been underway with each release, dating back to his debut “Thursday,” (2011). “Escape from LA’s” whistling sirens and staccato trap backbone tell of a boujee cruise through the city and references demons, literal and otherwise, with a nod to Keanu Reeves as a comic book character from the film “Constantine” (2005) and an explicit encounter in a recording studio.
Finally, “Heartless,” “Blinding Lights,” “Save Your Tears” and the title track represent The Weeknd’s meanderings into quality beat producing. “Heartless” is a rebellious Electronic hybrid — celebratory and wobbling.
“Blinding Lights,” in comparison, is a jam about how you want to see someone at night, while you’re intoxicated, driving to this person while being blinded by streetlights.
Paired with “Save Your Tears,” a song with a positive message and complementary cascading synths, both are such perfect Pop Electronica, either could have been smash hits in previous decades.